European Travel (for work): suggestions to make it awesome
March 12, 2018 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Next week I'm leaving for Europe for work. I'll be gone 2-3 weeks. It's been about 12 years since I left the country, so I'm looking for suggestions on how to make this amazing. I have a lot of leeway over when I need to actually be at certain places, and I've padded in a few days here and there to give myself some time to see the sights. I have some questions about what to bring and what to do.<

I speak some Spanish, but I don't think that's going to do me any good. I'll be in Switzerland, France, and England.

My first stop is Zurich, Switzerland (the place I need to be at is actually in Muri, a short drive from there). Should I stay in Zurich, or Muri? I'm guessing I'll have an easier time getting around the language barrier in a big city like Zurich, and I can use that as a basecamp for anything I want to do in the area.

Next I'll be getting myself to Lyon, France (however I want, I can rent a car, fly, or take a train). I'm thinking a train would probably be the most interesting (and seems like it only adds an hour over a flight). From Lyon I'll meet up with someone and we'll somehow get ourselves to Châtellerault (about a 3.5 hour car ride south-ish of Paris).

After a few days in France I'll be getting myself somehow to Surrey, England and will stay a few days there for work.

I'm packing fairly light (small carry on, small wheeled luggage), but I can pack up a box and use FedEx (if that's easily available around where I'll be?) to mail back souvenirs or whatever. I'll bring an adapter to charge my laptop, and everything else I have (phone, iPad, noise canceling headphones, battery pack) will charge via the laptop's USB ports.

1) For the flight (DC-->Zurich) I'll bring headphones, iPad, a book, my phone. I'll load up devices with music/movies. Anything else I'll need? I'm flying coach.
2) Stuff to do around Zurich? I'm not much of a shopper. I like day hikes and mountains. I'd love to go skiing, but I own absolutely no gear so I'd have to rent everything (and I wouldn't be able to expense that, so it can't be too expensive).
3) Train from Zurich to Lyon, or fly? I'd like to do a high-speed train for the experience, but if it's not really worth it I'll just fly.
4) Any things I absolutely must do in Lyon? What about Chatellerault?
5) How bad is the language barrier going to be? Employees at the Swiss company are fluent in English. There are no employees at the French company who speak French (although there's a very good chance I'll be able to take someone with me from Lyon who can translate). Any particular iOS apps I should use? I'm an engineer and will be interfacing with other engineers, so while we all sorta speak a universal language of technical drawings and ISO/ASME/ASTM specs, not everything is easily translatable.
6) I might have 5-6 days to kill in Zurich (or maybe not, things are kinda up in the air with the logistics of getting 600lbs of titanium rods from the USA to France). If that happens, is it worth it to take a 12+ hour train ride to a place like Amsterdam or Berlin or something (I won't be able to justify that as a work expense, so I'll be paying for it on my own, and I'm trying to limit using my own funds as much as possible).
7) Things to do around Surrey, England? I'll be there for 2-4 days probably and will only be working 1-2 days, and will be done around 4pm, so I'll have the evenings free.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints to Travel & Transportation around Zurich, Switzerland (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
2. Do you like cheese? Hit up one of the many fondue restaurants like the Raclette Stube. If you're into plants, check out the succulent collection - fun and free.

3. I love trains. When calculating the difference in travel time, don't forget how much earlier you need to get to the airport...
posted by beyond_pink at 3:22 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow, that is a sprawling monster of a trip. I'm sure you'll have a great time. I would take the train, you only have to show up 20 minutes before and almost always you save a bunch of time and hassle getting to and from the airport. My favorite site is which will let you book with all major European train companies. If I had 5-6 days in Zurich, I would stay local. Or at least localish. You could be in Milano in 3.5 hours, for instance. Or Colmar in 2 for EUR50. There really aren't that many cities more expensive than Zurich, so any place you go outside of Switzerland is going to be a lot cheaper, if any of them catch your fancy. There's a lot to see in the vicinity of Zurich, though, so either choice is good. I don't have any specific recommendations in your cities.
posted by wnissen at 3:24 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

1) Invest in an eye mask. I always sort of scoffed at the idea and then happened to take one on a transatlantic flight and it really was pretty great. If you happen to have individually wrapped wet wipes of some kind, throwing a couple in your bag to wipe off your face before dinner and/or before you land is nice. (AA used to hand out hot towels in coach before dinner once upon a time. That's long gone, but they do sometimes give you a wet wipe of some kind.)

6) I do love Berlin, but it's a heck of a way from Switzerland. I'd contemplate Munich instead. It's very different to Berlin, but there's plenty to see and do. There likely are budget flights to Amsterdam and/or Berlin available for less than the cost of the train if you have your heart set on either.
posted by hoyland at 3:26 PM on March 12, 2018

Luzern is only a half hour from Zurich by train (even closer to Muri), and is a must see.

You shouldn't experience a language barrier in Switzerland. Even in small towns, everyone speaks English.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:29 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In Switzerland, everyone speaks English. If you are there for a week go skiing. Even if you are there just for days go skiing. If I were you, I'd go to Vals, for the thermal baths and also skiing. Just stay in Zürich as long as you are working, though. If you are only there for a short while, just enjoy Zürich, it may be the most boring place in the universe but even so there are really fine museums and galleries. Definitely enough for a couple of days. Going to Amsterdam would be a wild waste of time. You might go to Munich, but I would still recommend Vals.
From Zürich to Lyon, go by train, and enjoy Lyon. Lyon is amazing and you won't have time for it all, so just enjoy what you get.
For the rest of your trip, I have no experience, except to have a good time and chill.
posted by mumimor at 4:06 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Train. Obviously the train. It's not only more civilized, but it happens to go through frickin' Switzerland, so there's lots of scenery along the way. Depending on schedule, you could potentially sneak in a half-day in a connecting city between trains -- Basel is more interesting than Geneva, unless you are really into international governance. As a fellow engineer, Basel's Tinguely museum is IMO potentially worth a detour.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:03 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The train trip between Zurich and Lyon is going to be beautiful if it takes the same tracks as Geneva-Lyon. Lyon has a very strong food tradition and could be called the culinary capital of France. While there and you can do Mâchon, it's a tradition where you eat tripes with wine for breakfast. Guillermo del Toro seemed to enjoy it a lot while he was there last year.
posted by SageLeVoid at 5:16 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Surrey is a big place. Where are you going to be?
posted by Helga-woo at 1:05 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Surrey isn’t the most scenic part of the UK, as it’s largely part of London’s commuter belt, but it does have its share of attractive villages and country walks and cosy pubs if that appeals to you. Heading slightly further south, into Sussex and Hampshire, the scenery gets more striking (i.e. the South Downs, Beachy Head), and Brighton is a nice town to visit. If you like history and particularly if you’re a Patrick O’Brian/Hornblower fan, the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a good day out.

Obviously you can also head up to London — depending slightly where you are, but particularly if you’re in the north of the county anyway and on a train line, you could head up to town for the evening perfectly reasonably.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:55 AM on March 13, 2018

Best answer: Train between Zurich and Lyon. If you take a plane, you arrive at the airport, and then you still have 30 minutes in one of the most expensive trams in Europe.

In Lyon, go to a good restaurant. We're not known as the French capital of gastronomy for nothing. I personally recommend one of Bocuse's brasseries, and le Bistrot du Potager, which will both set you back 30-40€ per person, wine not included. For more recommendations, you can try the RPPP of the Petit Paumé, a local guidebook put together since 1968 by students of one of the business schools in Lyon.

For visiting, if you like churches, both the Cathedral Saint-Jean and the Fourvière Basilica are must-see, and the view from the Basilica is to die for.
posted by snakeling at 2:21 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lyon has so many small and wonderful museums.

As an engineer, you will love the ancient technology on display at the Maison des Canuts, the museum of silk workers. Lyon was the center of French silk production, and this museum got the job of recreating the draperies at Versailles, which took two years to recreate the designs and eighteen years to weave. English tours available on Mondays and Saturdays.

Lyon was also the headquarters of the French Résistance, so if you are into WWII history the Centre de l’histoire de la résistance is quite moving. I do not remember how much is presented in English, though.

My favorite, though, is the Institut Lumière. This is the house of the Lumière brothers, who invented cinema. It’s a great, interactive tour of the earliest stages of cinema and movie technology. Audio guides available in English.

There are lots of other museums in Lyon but those are my favorite.
posted by Liesl at 5:30 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely get the train from Zurich to Lyon. Seat 61 tells you how.

Definitely go skiing. Loads of resorts in easy striking distance of Zurich e.g. Laax. It's been an epic season for snow in the Alps so conditions should be great. Pick a resort, google some hire shops and reserve some kit. Maybe CHF60 for the day and the same again for a for a lift pass? Everyone will speak English.

As others have said, Surrey is a big place. From most places it will be easy to get the train to London for a night out. Otherwise whatever you want to do will be available within easy reach. One place I went recently was the Brooklands Museum which was pretty amazing. If you give some more ideas of your interests & where you are based I can provide better ideas.

Oh & definitely get the train from Zurich airport not a cab if you are going to be based in the town centre, costs CHF6.80 and is much quicker
posted by el_presidente at 1:46 PM on March 13, 2018

Response by poster: Ok I've been here 3 days and it's amaaaaazing. I'm going to try to ski tomorrow or Monday (thinking that it will be less crowded than a weekend).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:20 AM on March 22, 2018

Response by poster: I skied Mt Titlis today. I don't really have words for it. I'm on the train back to Zürich and my legs are jelly.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:15 AM on March 25, 2018

Response by poster: It's been a couple months.

Zurich was Europe on easy mode. Everyone spoke English. When I'd try to speak German they'd just switch to English automatically. The food was great. The sights were beautiful. Everything worked exactly the way it's supposed to. Public transit was absolutely perfect. People were distant but friendly. Skiing was incredible. On my last night I befriended my bartender and found out we have a lot in common, friended him on Facebook, and stayed up late talking about his love of big American cars (he owns the only Mercury Marauder in the country).

I took a train to Lyon and life got a lot harder. People were much less tolerant of my awful French than they were of my awful German. The food changing. Seriously, I cried at a couple meals. At one restaurant, I ordered escargot and morels as an appetizer, and this man sitting across from me kept staring at me while I ate. He asked if it's good, I told him it's amazing, then he whips his phone out and shows me pictures of his morel harvesting operation. He and his dog go hiking in the woods on the outskirts of the city and harvest the morels, then he sells them to various restaurants in town. I was eating his morels. Then he shared part of his dish with me. My routine was to go to a nice restaurant every night and ask "what's good here? what do you recommend?" and just go with it. I did not have a single bad meal. I didn't even have a mediocre meal. Every meal was amazing.

From Lyon I went to Poitiers and Chatellerault for a couple days each doing work stuff, and then took the train to London. Got a hotel in London. From there I took a train to Surrey to do a day of work stuff, and then killed a day in London just walking around. I'm fluent in English, so I had that going for me. At some office pub I found a dude who was enamored with Americans and bar hopped with that guy for the night until he got completely shitfaced and bid me adieu (so apparently Budweiser is a big thing over there?). Flew Norwegian (Boeing 787 Dreamliner first class! woot!) back home and got through customs (the difference in clearing customs in Zurich versus Austin can't be stated enough).

I'm dying to go again, but I don't know when I'll get the chance. I love solo corporate travel.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older How do you fit fruit and veg in your fridge?   |   Trying to hash out fair division of domestic labor Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.