I just came back from a trip in Northern Italy, Austria, Germany and Prague. I was traveling with my husband Mark, our little girl 20 months old (pseudonym Little Nanerl) and my sister. The adults are all in their late 30's. We were traveling from the States (my husband and I from Florida; my sister from Boston). My husband, Little Nanerl and I travelled from August 15th to September 1rst. My sister joined us in St Gilgen Austria on August 22nd.
We had an amazing time however the weather is what my family in France refer as an "été pourri" I promptly stopped in a shop to buy 3 coats and 1 sweater on our 2 day. It is cold and rainy.
We also had too many stops, a product of too many interests between 3 people. I treated this trip more as a reconnaissance trip, to determine where we would go next time for 7-10 days, rent an apartment and explore.
I seriously considered first class plane tickets especially with an infant in arms, but the high season (August) made us finally go with coach tickets. Next time I will try to book our trip in shoulder seasons and use skymile points.
ITALY: Venice and Lake Como (Varenna) August 16th-August 21rst
I really wanted to spend some time in Lake Como, but my husband has never seen Venice (I had been 3 times). So instead of landing in Milan, we landed in Marco Polo Airport in Venice and took the vaporetto to Cà d'Oro. I had stayed previously in the Palazzo Abadessa and loved the 17 century rooms, the courtyard, and the off beaten path location. We got a junior suite and felt as if we were sleeping in a museum.
I had nothing planned that day since we were jet lagged. We walked where there were no tourists (avoiding San Marco square). Little Nanerl loved chasing the pigeons. We napped happily in our big bed and before closing our eyes, admired the ceiling frescos. We had not made dinner reservations, but the Rivera could take us at 9:45pm. I initially hesitated because of Little Nanerl's sleeping schedule before my husband pointed that we all had just woken up at 6pm, and she would still be awake anyway. It was one of the best dinners of my life. We walked there, and without the cruise boat hoards it made for a much better promenade. Little Nanerl insisted on walking the whole way, over the Academia bridge, dancing as soon as she would hear street music.
The Rivera was next to the water and they had heavy blankets for us to keep warm. They were extremely attentive; and when Little Nanerl started saying multiple times "à manger" they were prompt to give her a huge bread basket. Her eyes got very big as she eyed how long some of the bread sticks were: "merci Monsieur". Italians, like most Europeans speak multiple languages and without missing a beat the server answered " Il n'y a pas de quoi petite Demoiselle"
We went to bed late that night but happy. And beside the temperatures being lower than expected it was not raining.
I woke up to a sunny day and went down to eat the wonderful breakfast in the Courtyard. I particularly enjoyed that courtyard because they are so rare in Venice. I enjoyed my coffee baby free and struck a conversation with a German couple siting next to me. I then asked the concierge if I could bring up a tray for my husband and my baby that were still sleeping upstairs, to which he replied "of course". My husband enjoyed getting breakfast in bed. He was to stay in with our daughter until she woke up since I was going to the Secret Itineraries Tour at the Dodge Palace that morning (the next day it was his turn; babies are not allowed on the tour hence the split).
I did enjoy the tour and walking back I stopped to buy 3 coats. If this was our southern most location in Europe and it was this cold, I could just imagine what it would be like in Bavaria and the Salzkammergut. I was very glad to have proper clothes later on, even though my husband thought I was exaggerating. The baby had plenty of sweaters and jackets but I guess I wanted more just in case.
The rest of of our time was spent mostly walking around and we did do a gondola ride (asking for the small canals).
Our transition to Varenna was an easy one. 2 trains later we found ourselves in front of a very charming small village; we stayed at the Villa Cipressi which we chose for its peaceful gardens on a clift. The only room available when I booked it was one without a view but when we got to our room, we did have a beautiful view of lake Como! Little Nanerl was impressed with the amount of boats "un autre bateau" and the amount to bells "c'est la cloche de l'église". I had read good reviews about a little café named Café Varenna, and I was so charmed by it, that I cancelled our dinner reservations at the Villa Cipressi.
Café Varenna's food is simply excellent and not pretentious. The tables sit outside on a little cobble stone street adjacent to the lake. There is room for toddlers to play while the adults sip on their prosecco. Some of my best memories of this trip is linked to this little café. I knew right then, that we had made the right decision by staying in Varenna. And I which we had more time there.
The rest of our experience was a mixed one: on one hand I loved visiting the Villa Carlotta; on the other I disliked Bellagio (and I realized I will be the minority there). Bellagio was crawling with tourists. And it seems to be all about shopping. Not my favorite. Also I wanted to hike the Greenway, and we got lost for 2 hours trying to find the beginning of the trail and never found it till the very end next to the Villa Carlotta. But then it was a trail next to a busy road. When I hike, I don't want to see a car, let alone a busy "highway". I like the way the Swiss, Austrians and Germans are meticulous with their trail markings, high up in mountains. Maybe someone can give me tips on some beautiful hikes they did in lake Como. (we had a a baby carrier).
We came back exhausted to our beautiful little village Varenna -such a jewel- .The time would have been better spent just reading a book in the garden's of Villa Cipressi and going swimming.
After 3 days in Varenna, we took a late train to Milan. I had booked a first class couchette (with private shower and bathroom) for an overnight from Milan to Munich (arriving at 6:30am). My husband and I had a wonderful experience taking an overnight train in Egypt (very Agatha Christie; looking at the Nile and the villages as we passed through). But alas! it was not the case. Our train stopped so many times. At one point it stopped in a train yard for hours. It made for disrupted sleep. We were exhausted by the time we reached Munich. We boarded the train 5 min later to Salzburg, an easy and beautiful train ride (2 hours).
17 days in Europe: a family vacation
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