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Trip Report A trip to Europe - Visited 14 cities in 15 days

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In early September 2013, we had a trip to Europe, covering 14 cities in 15 days. Some of them were passing through, but we still had a very good taste of the cities with a very well planned itineraries. The cities we visited were Mainz(Germany), Wiesbaden(Germany), Frankfurt(Germany), Vienna(Austria), Salzburg(Austria), Innsbruck(Germany), Venice(Italy), Padova(Italy), Rome(Italy), Florence(Italy), Pisa(Italy), Cinque Terre(Italy), Milan(Italy), Zurich(Switzerland), and Lake Lucerne(Switzerland).
We saved our time and money by not going to most of the museum, and also we traveled in between cities by booking advance train tickets. We also used all the local transportation to get around the cities. It needed a lot of searches in advance, but we saved money and time in the end. Basically we mapped out everything before we were there, making small cards to carry around so that we could ask people if we got lost. We only encountered one or two challenges, other than that, the whole trip was just smooth and wonderful.
The last leg of the trip at Lake Lucerne was such a wonderful experience. We bought the package for visiting Pilatus, and it was a well worth money spend on that day.
We flew in to Frankfurt, and flew out from Zurich.
Day 1
Arriving Frankfurt airport at noon, took a local train S8 to Mainz main train station (Mainz Hauptbahnhof) and took a local tram to Town Hall station, then a short walk to Hilton Hotel. The hotel is just by the confluence of the rivers of Main and Rhine. Mainz is a small city, and was easy to get to the city square. After checking in and put down our bags, we headed out to explore on foot. There was a cultural fair in the city square, and we got a taste of the local food and beer.
Day 2
We bought a day pass at the main station that would cover the transportation in Mainz and Wiesbaden. We hopped on one of the local bus that would cross the river and go to the main station of Wiesbaden. We changed another bus that would stop town hall area where all the activities were. We aimed for students when we wanted to ask for direction, as they are more likely to understand English. We had a good four hours to explore the city, and we had a good time there as it was a beautiful day.
We took a bus back to Mainz, retrieved our bags and decided to stop by the St. Stephan Church which is famous for its Marc Chagall windows. Later, we just took a slow walk to the main train station, passing the university of Mainz. Our City Nite train from Frankfurt to Vienna would depart at 11pm, so we had plenty of time to explore the city of Frankfurt. The train ride from Mainz to Frankfurt was about 30-40 minutes. After arriving the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, We put our bags in the lockers again, and started on foot towards the Altstadt (old town). We walked through the red light zone, and turned right to the river bank. It was still bright day light, so there was not so crazy to walked pass the zone, but we decided to take a different path later to the central train station for our night train. We simply just admired all these beautiful old architectural buildings. The Romerberg, Iron steel bridge, and the half-timbered houses are indeed very cool. We had a gorgeous sunset by the river, even though we did not get to try the frankfurter and the apple cider beer. We covered most of the well-known sights, and met a couple of young air hostesses and had a good chat with them. We had a wonderful evening at the old town.
Later,we did a loop to the financial district and visited the ground of the old opera house. It was so beautiful with all the lights lit around the building. As we were getting pretty tired with all the walking, and decided to ask people the direction back to the station. They were nice to direct us away the crazy zone, and we arrived the station safe and sound, and with plenty of time to spare before the train arrived. We paid more for a two-people booth with beds, and it was quite an experience to sleep on bunk bed on a train. We saved on a hotel stay, and paid for a night sleep on train with time saved for our next destination.
Day 3
We woke up with a bright sun shining through the window, and the conductor knocking at the door, telling us that breakfast would be served in a few minutes. We quickly did a wash-up, and the conductor came to stow away the lower bunk bed, and ‘serve us’ breakfast. We arrived Wien Westbahnof bright and early, and we were very excited for the good day ahead of us. We figured out how to buy our day pass on the ticket machine, and hopped onto the metro for our hotel, Wien Renaissance by Marriott. Our plan was to visit the Schronbrunn Palace which is the next metro stop by our hotel. We left our bags at the hotel storage even though we were not able to check in that early. So, we walked across the street, and hopped on the next metro to the Schronbrunn Palace.
Indeed it is a very big and nice ground to visit. The best thing is it is free to explore the ground and garden except for entering the palace. That was exactly what we did, it was very beautiful just to walk inside the ground. We spent about two to three hours to see the area, and went back to check in the hotel before going to the inner city of Wien. We almost walked the entire city in that half a day. We really like Vienna, everything is big and beautiful, and we will visit again next time if we plan to visit other areas of Europe. Dinner was good with a glass of wine, and people were really friendly. We had a good night sleep at the hotel.
Day 4
Waking up early the next morning, and had the free breakfast with a big crowd of Japanese tourists. We left early to catch a train to Salzburg-the birth place of Mozart. Another exciting day ahead of us, and it was a good nice sunny day. It was about a 2 hours train ride to Salzburg. We again making use of the locker to store our bags, and also bought our Salzburg cards for the day. The card indeed was very useful for us, as it covered most of the museum fees, an hour cruise ride on the river, cable car ride to Untersburg, cockwheel to the Hohensalzburg castle, and all the bus ride within the zone. Total cost was Euro 45.00, and well-worth for us. We laid out our plan for the day, and executed the plan successfully. We visited the Mirabell garden, Mozart’s birth place and museum, the cruise ride to the Hellsbrunn Palace, cable car ride to Untersburg, and took a bus-ride back to the city center, went on the corkwheel to Hohensalzburg castle, and visited the fountain scene where The Sound of Music were filmed. A very good successful day indeed. Later the evening, we caught the train to Innsbruck, where our next hotel for the night was. On the train, we met this nice young German lady. We had a very conversation with her, until the day now, I still regret not having ask her for an email address.
Day 5
We stayed at the Innsbruck Hilton for the night, and asked for a high floor room. We had a very good view of the mountains and the city. Unfortunately it was a rainy cloudy day, but we still woke up with high spirit for the day. We went out to explore the city on foot, even the rain could not dampened our spirits. Innsbruck is a beautiful city. The buildings are so colorful, and just imagine it is a bright sunny day, the city will be full of life and energy. We left the city at noon. That would be a five hours train ride with gorgeous sceneries along the way. It was a very pleasant and relax journey, and all the towns along the way had quite a number of backpackers getting in and out the train. When the train cross border to Italy, there were rolls of vineyards mingled in the valley, and the backdrop was the mountains surrounding the valley. The train passed Verona, Padua, then arrived at Venice. When we booked the train tickets the time, we were not sure if we should stop at Padua or Venice. Since we could make our way back by bus to Padua, we thought it would be nice to see Venice at night. Our hotel was based at Padua for two nights.
When we arrived at Venice, the day was still bright. After putting our bags for storage, we went over the bridge to find the bus terminal to buy our tickets back to the hotel. This proved to be the biggest challenge for our entire trip. We printed out all the information from the internet, bought our tickets for the bus, but finding the right bus to board later was the biggest problem. They had different bus companies going to Padua with different stops. We almost got on the wrong bus, but found out in the nick of time before the bus left the station. We jumped off the bus and found the right bus later. There was sure a lot of confusion in that terminal, and people were not as friendly, and they do not speak English to you. Even in this hour, the city of Venice still had a lot of tourists in most of the alleys. We spent three hours walking around, and decided later not to come back the next day.
Day 6
We had a very nice and beautiful day in Padua. It is a very nice old renaissance town, less crowded, and just as charming and full of history. We walked the walled city, visited the Anatomy Theatre (where Galileo Galilei taught for 18 years), the oldest fix anatomy theatre in the world, the San Anthony’s area, the Prato Della Valle, the Basilica of S. Giustina, the magnificent Palazzo della Ragione, and some other churches along the way.
Day 7
We left Padua in the morning, taking our first Italian bullet train, Frecciargento, to Rome. It was a three hours journey. We arrived Roma Termini at noon, bought our metro tickets, and figured the way to Rome Courtyard Central Park Hotel. After checking in the hotel, and again dropped our bags, taking another metro to the Vatican City. It was a warm beautiful day, and we were very happy to walk around the Vatican City. The line to the Basilica was just too long, and we decided just to explore the outside, and moved on to find the Spanish Steps. We were on foot walking and walking, tons of people were walking here and there too. We were not very sure where exactly we were heading to, but just kept on moving as the other people. It was pretty confusing to figure out the right street to get where you want to go, so we just follow other people. We did a lot of walking and saw a lot of the Rome’s famous landmarks. We really enjoyed the espresso and food in Rome. Later the day, we took the metro back to the hotel, and we actually could see the Basilica from our hotel room. Tomorrow would be another day to explore Rome.
Day 8
It was another cloudy day, forecasted to rain later the day. We woke early again and decided to try our luck again for the San Peter Basilica. It was a Sunday, and The Pope might come out to greet after the mass at noon. We took our metro again to the Vatican City. We sure knew our way a lot better after yesterday’s exploring. Wasting no time, we arrived early, and indeed we were very lucky (I guessed people just want to come later for the mass), the line was very short and we got inside in less than 15 minutes wait time. The words described should be majestic and magnificent inside the Basilica. We were so blessed to witness the grand scale of this structure built long time ago. We took the whole morning walking around and also climbed those 320 steps to the top of the dome. There was no line and everything just moved smoothly. When we came out of the Basilica, there was this down pour from the sky, but it was only intermediate. We decided not to wait for the Pope, as we were not sure it was going to happen. Later the day, we found out he did come out to greet. We went to the heart of Rome with all the sights, managed to see most of the famous architectural buildings. It was a very good day even with the rain on and off.
Day 9
We left Rome around 10:30am, and arrived Firenze S. M. Novella by Frecciargento at 12pm. We found the local tram just outside the train station, hopped on and got to our hotel in less than 30 minutes, with some time lost in finding the hotel after getting off the tram. We checked in our hotel, dropped our bags, and quickly hopped the tram back to the train station. We managed to figure our way to the city center pretty well this time. Florence is not as big as Rome, and we just followed the Arno River, it directly brought us to the Vecchio Bridge where all the hustles and bustles were. It was a pretty nice day, and we had a nice time rooming around. The best part was we walked in these alleys to look for the Duomo, and all of the sudden, it just opened out in front of us, and my jaw just dropped. It is really a great piece of art. Everything is so perfect, and the details are so intrigued. We just stood in awe in front of the Duomo. I just marveled the ancient people who built this magnificent piece of art without any modern tools.
Day 10
We woke up early thinking we might be able to see the sunrise along the Arna River. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day. We went back to the city center, took some picture, and walked around to see the daily life of Florence in the morning. Later that afternoon, we checked out our hotel and headed to our next destination, Pisa. We do not need to book this section of train tickets as it is local train. We used Pisa as our base to visit Cinque Terre the next day, so we had two nights at Pisa, coming back to Florence at noon, and would took the Frecciarossa to Milan. We did go to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Piazza del Duomo that evening.
Day 11
The trip to Cinque Terre was over all a little disappointing. Those trains connecting the villages just over flowed with tourists. That was an incident that a person was injured trying to get on the over packing train. After that, we decided not to stop at all the villages, just stayed with one, and enjoyed our leisure time as the trails were shut down due to mud-slide damages in 2011. We had good gelato there, and food was pretty good, just too many tourists every corners you walked right to. This visit reminded us the same experience in Venice. We still had a good time though.
Day 12
We left Pisa in the morning, heading back to Florence to take our Frecciarossa train to Milan at noon. The journey took less than two hours, and we arrived to the Milano Centrale before 2pm. The subway system in Milan is fantastic. We found our subway line, bought the tickets and went to our next hotel. We did the usual checked in, and headed back to the city center to explore. We visited the Sforza Castle, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza del Duomo, and of course the beautiful Milan Duomo. We even took a subway later that evening to Navigli. The sunset along the canal designed by Leonardo was so beautiful. We also went window shopping the most expensive fashion street in the world.
Day 13
Early the morning after breakfast, we headed to the Milan Duoma again. There was no line to climb up those steps to the top. It was really beautiful at the top except for the scaffoldings that covered the top. I was a bit disappointed, but it was still a very good experience and worth the effort. After that, we just walked around the area, and our train to Zurich was at 3pm, so there was plenty of time for us to take it easy. We like Milan, there were less tourists, and easy to get to places by metro, buses, or by trams. We covered a lot of grounds in half a day, and we still had another half a day before we left for Zurich. We met interesting, and nice people here too. They were more willing to help us for direction when we decided to try taking bus back to our hotel. There was this friendly Italian old lady trying so hard on the bus to show us nice places along the way. Of course, it was all by hand signals communication, and we enjoyed meeting people like this.
We left Milan around 3pm for Zurich. It was the nicest train ride for the whole trip. The scenaries, the mountains, and the engineering of the railway were such wonders that it opened my eyes for the capability of human kind. The journey passes a number of the passes, climbing up the mountains, going through a lot of tunnels, and sure enough it circles the church at Wassen 3 times. That was such an experience! The nature and human architectural structures just mingled in a harmonized manner. Train system in Europe is really something to marvel, as all the historical structures we have visited. We reached our hotel around 8pm, and decided to call it a day. Tomorrow would be another big challenge. We were to visit Lake Lucerne, and it was going to be a very sunny day.
Will continue.................

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