Swiss Rail Pass Evaluation: Extensive Benefits Justify Price

Swiss PassOur upcoming journey to Switzerland will be our first Europe trip since our first international trip together in 2009 in which buying a rail pass makes sense relative to purchasing individual tickets.  In our last train-intensive trip to Europe (Portugal/Spain 2012), we actually determined that planning ahead and buying tickets directly from the operator lead to greater savings than a rail pass.  This same rule applies to our planned travel in Germany and Austria during this trip, however the comprehensive benefits of the Swiss Rail Pass make it the clear choice for funding our transit within Switzerland.

The Swiss Pass is different from the passes offered by Eurail that are the standard in most countries.  Although Eurail offers regional or global passes that include Switzerland, the Swiss Pass, with its associated benefits, is only available from Swiss Travel System.  Also unlike the Eurail passes, the Swiss Pass offers free fare on local transit options, free admission to many of Switzerland’s best museums and attractions (link to master list), and free rides on many of the mountain cablecars and railroads.  Our first analysis, without considering these benefits, indicated individual tickets would actually be very comparable to a pass at around 305 CHF for our total train travel cost in Switzerland (cost of a 3-day flexi pass, 20 CHF shipping, and one ticket not included on the pass vs. 5 individual rail tickets and Mt. Rigi Majestic Round Trip).

Once we started looking at are other planned activities in Switzerland, however, we began to realize the benefit of the Swiss Pass.  The “flexi pass” we originally evaluated (which does not require the pass days to be consecutive), only offers the benefits on travel days.  Most of our planned activities will not occur on the same days we travel, so to take advantage of the Swiss Pass benefits, we needed to instead evaluate buying a normal 8-day Swiss Pass, which would cover travel and activities for our entire stay in Switzerland.  For a couple, this pass costs 365 CHF per traveler (including the 10% saver discount and 20 CHF total shipping for 2 passes).  Here are the expected benefits we expect to accrue with the pass per person (organized from largest value to smallest):

With this list, we value the Swiss Pass at 437.90 CHF, giving us 73 CHF relative to the individual cost.  Not spectacular savings, but combined with the convenience of avoiding ticket lines, it is a clear choice for us.  We really like how Swiss Travel Systems has put together a product that integrates sightseeing priorities, train travel, and local transit.

For others, its important to do an analysis to understand the value of a pass, and perhaps more importantly, whether a flexi pass or regular pass works best for their situation.  It is possible a multi-country Eurail pass makes more sense, if the sightseeing priorities don’t provide enough savings, and there are also other passes available that give you half price on train travel that may be worth consideration.

My Turkish Bath Experience

Tip: If you want to go to one of the popular ones, be sure to book ahead!  We tried to book the morning of our desired visit (looking for a time around 7pm), but they were all booked up.  The hotel sent us to another bath – it wasn’t as nice, but the price reflected that so at least we saved some money!

First of all, a few logistics.  Men and women are in separate areas – at some of the baths, the times for women and men are actually different, so be sure to check on this before you plan!  For example, there was one that had men in the morning and evening, and women in the afternoon.  This wouldn’t have worked for us because we planned to go at the same time.  Women = naked (you don’t HAVE to be, but it’s normal) and men = naked with a towel kept around them at all times.  At least this is what we experienced at ours.

The bath we went to is called Cagaloglu Hamami.  It was open to both men and women from 8am – 10pm, and we were told by our hotel that we didn’t need reservations (it wasn’t very busy when we were there – around 6:30pm).  They offer a range of services, starting from self-service at €30 (you could also pay in TL or USD, but they did only accept cash – so we had to run to the ATM) all the way to the €110 “Sultan service” – full body scrubbing, a 15-minute dry massage, then a 15-minute foam massage (with two attendants!).  Ryan and I both chose something in between – the “exfoliating service,” which was €45 or 135 TL.  More about what that included later!

Changing room at the Turkish bath

After paying, we went our separate ways.  I was brought to a large changing room (pictured on the left – picture from the website), with separate locking rooms around the edges.  Each of the small rooms had a bed/cot, which I used to keep my clothes and purse.  We were provided with the key to our room, a towel, and wooden shoes.  I stripped down and brought only my hair tie and key with me (with my towel wrapped around and wooden shoes on!) and walked into the large marble bath room.

Upon entering, I was a bit disappointed.  There were two women wearing bathing suits, with 3 kids (maybe about 6-8 age range).  The kids were running around, splashing water, and being loud (or just being kids).  It was a bit frustrating because it was supposed to be a relaxing experience, but maybe that’s what you get when you don’t pay as much!  Luckily they didn’t stick around the whole time.

Turkish Bath

My attendant, Arzeau, told me to lay on the slab, which I did.  I put my towel down first and laid face up on top if it, and just tried to relax as best as I could.  Another woman came in a few minutes after me and did the same – laid down, waiting for her attendant to come back.  I stared at the domed ceiling, which had holes through it shaped like circles and stars, letting sunlight stream through.  The room was warm and somewhat steamy, but not as much as I expected.

About 15-20 minutes later, Arzeau came back in with a few bowls full of water and started dumping them onto my body.  I was still laying face up as she started to scrub me down.  She started at my face and worked her way down.  I was ready for it to hurt, since I had heard that the attendants are generally pretty rough with the scrubbing, but I was never uncomfortable.  Once she was done with the front, Arzeau instructed me to turn around and she scrubbed my back all the way down to the backs of my feet. The last section to scrub was done while sitting up – my armpits, arms, and sides of my torso.

Turkish Bath - ceiling

Once she was done scrubbing, Arzeau led me over to one of the sinks that surrounded the walls of the room.  She quickly rinsed me off, put my towel on the ground, and had me sit on it while she went to get the shampoo.  She came back and dumped water all over me until I was soaked, and then lathered up my hair with the shampoo, continuing down to the rest of my upper body.  Once that was done, I stood up, was rinsed off once more, and she was done! you can also check out to buy the best shampoo products.

The entire service took maybe about 15-20 minutes, but as I mentioned above, there were other, more extensive services that were available for purchase.  The length of mine was just about right (for me).  I was allowed to stay in the bath area, so I went back to the marble slab to relax for another 15 or so minutes, not wanting to take too long because I figured Ryan would be waiting for me.

When I exited, I found myself in a room with dry towels, so I grabbed one and dried off before heading back to my locker room (I kept the towel with me, since I would have been naked – which is okay since it was still females only at this point).  There were also hair dryers available, but since my hair doesn’t cooperate well without some type of conditioner, I opted to leave it wet.  Arzeau came by and handed me a plastic bag with the scrubber she had used on me (a souvenir!) and I thanked her and tipped her 30TL – she was a good attendant and was not pushy at all about being tipped, which I’ve heard can happen.

What an experience!  I met Ryan at the outdoor cafe where he had already finished his coffee or tea, and had been waiting for me for 30 minutes.  His experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable as mine, and he was just ready to get a drink.

Would I recommend a turkish bath?  Yes, I think if you have the time, it’s a fun and different experience, assuming you are not too uncomfortable to be naked in front of strangers.  If we were to do it again, I would have made reservations and gone to a more upscale one, but the one we went to was fine and there were no real issues.  The bath was a nice break from a hot day of site seeing and, while it didn’t leave me without wanting a real shower later on, it did leave me feeling refreshed for the evening.

Last-Minute Getaway: North of the Border

After tentative Super Bowl weekend plans fell through, our 3-day weekend was suddenly cleared. And while we love spending long weekends at home to relax and catch up, we’ve been home every weekend this month (albeit with guests) and we’re ready to get out of Bakersfield.

We were open to anywhere we could drive or fly (plus driving time to the airport) to in about 5 hours or less. Mexico was promising, but in the end we decided to go north of the border, to Vancouver!


Just ordered this book yesterday – Amazon Prime has been very good to us, especially with Sunday deliveries by Amazon!

All we’ve done so far is book our flights from LA to Vancouver on Thursday night (returning Sunday). So now the fun begins! We hope to have our hotel booked in the last couple of days, as well as figure out which activities we’re interested in and where we’d like to eat.

This is my biggest last minute trip, and it’s something I’ve longed to do. It’s much easier to be spontaneous with our long weekends, so I’m looking forward to seeing how next weekend pans out!