Our European Family Vacation began by flying Delta Air from Richmond, VA through Atlanta to Zurich Switzerland.
I bought the economy plus seats for the Atlanta Zurich leg both ways, and it was definitely worth having the extra leg room and a few free glasses of wine to relax on the plane. Of course, I can never sleep on the plane which is too bad.
We are two adults late forties and early fifties (i am of course the late forties one!), and two daughters ages 19 and 20.
We started our trip traveling by train from Zurich airport on to Lugano Switzerland. We stayed at the Hotel Parco Paradiso Hotel in Paradiso Lugano. It is a very nice small hotel high up on the hill overlooking Lake Lugano. We had the penthouse suite room which had two bedrooms, two baths, a living room with a large deck with full lake views. It was about the cost of two regular rooms so it was perfect for our family. Every morning we had nice breakfast which was part of our room rate. This hotel does not have a/c so it could get hot in the summer. There were no screens on the doors, so it was hard to leave them open while sleeping.
Lugano looks like something out of picture book and our photos definitely look like we were photoshopped onto a postcard. This was probably my favorite place we visited on our trip. We stayed three nights here and we visited Lake Maggiore and the town of Locarno for a day trip. It was easy to hop on a train for a day someplace else. The kids liked Locarno better because there was more affordable shopping there and a little more going on.
We then trained down to Florence Italy for our next three nights at the Hotel L Orologio, which funny enough means clock in Italian. There are pictures of clocks everywhere in the hotel, but no actual clocks in the rooms.
One tidbit, bring a small alarm clock. This drove us nuts as there were no clocks in the rooms for 12 of the 14 nights on our trip.
We bought one of our kids a cheap watch so they could know what time it was!
The Hotel Orologio was a very nice boutique type hotel. We had two rooms and they were both very nicely decorated and had comfortable beds. The main drawback was the fact that the sink tap water had a plastic taste. So, bottled water was the only water I drank while in the room.
I must also note that we had to buy water everywhere. Tap water was not something we could relay to any waiter anywhere. It just seemed odd that they only served bottled since the water is drinkable in all the places we went.
The Hotel Orologio served a nice breakfast and is very centrally located. We walked everywhere. The city of Florence is easy to get around and is very walkable. We got lost frequently, but always found our way back.
While in Florence, we took a cooking class at Florencetown cooking. http://www.florencetown.com/eng/florence-tours/half-day-tours/49/cooking-class-in-florence.html
We loved it! David was our host chef and he really was very entertaining. He cooked along with Julio. We made homemade egg noodles for pasta Bolognese and also made homemade ravioli, and tiramisu. The whole class time runs about runs about 5 hours and ends with eating the food you all make together. Lots of fun and a variety of ages in our group.
We also took a train to Figline Valdaro to visit a friend of the family who lives in Tuscany during her summers. She took us to her home and then out for a meal. It was so nice to see some of Tuscany first hand and the kids really liked it there.
Next, we trained down to Rome and stayed for 6 nights at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel which is a Waldorf Astoria Hilton brand. We were fortunate to use points for the two rooms for the 6 nights. Great way to save money and also stay in luxury! The hotel was beautiful. Some may say that staying in the suburbs of Rome is a pain, but it was a quiet sanctuary to come back to each day. The hotel offered a shuttle all day back and forth to Barbarini Piazza. I would only go back to Rome to just stay at this hotel. The breakfast buffet, which was complimentary for DH's gold status was unbelievable.
While in Rome, we walked, walked, and walked some more. We saw all the main highlights and took two official tours. The first one, Walks of Italy Coliseum tour. We had a great tour guide named Camille. She was very informative and funny. She kept us entertained through the Palatine hill, the Forum and the Coliseum. She was a good guide and we had 12 people in our group.
We also did the Vatican tour and booked it directly with the Vatican. It was a lot less expensive than the tour groups like Walks of Italy. We had 23 people in our group. The place was very crowded and so it didn't matter how many were in your tour because you really were like taking the tour with a thousand people. Our tour guide was Christina and she gave a good overview of the Vatican. I think Camille would have give a better tour because her English was excellent. But, the cost was considerably less and the tour we had was fine.
I must say I was a little disappointed in the Sistine chapel. Not the artwork, that was unbelievably beautiful, but the chapel itself. It didn't even look like a church to me. St Peter's Basicalla was a lot more of a church. I guess I pictured the Vatican to look different than it did. I thought St Peter's square looked like something out of a Charlton Heston movie! I could see him strutting up on a horse in his Moses outfit.
We spent our last full day in Rome at the hotel relaxing by their beautiful pool and enjoying our resort. It was our only really warm nice day so that was the perfect thing to do. We were toured out by then. Our weather on the entire trip was more overcast, sometimes sunny, very little rain, but always the threat of rain, and cooler than we had expected. Cooler was so much better. Who wants to tour in the heat anyway. We took a few small town trains that were unairconditioned and it got stifling hot even though it was cooler outside.
Our next stop was Milan for one night. We did this to break up the long ride back to Zurich for the flight home. We stayed at the Hilton in Milan on points again and this was probably our worst bed and was a big downgrade after coming from the Cavalieri in Rome. But it was right next to the train station, but still in the middle of nowhere really. Milan was my least favorite place on the trip, but to be fair, we were only there one night.
Since it was a Monday, all museums were closed.
We then trained onto Zurich. Up until this point, all of our trains were on time, but this last one was delayed and the Swiss blamed the Italians for being late. Since we were late, we had to change trains in some small town and they put our original train out of service and moved us all to another train onto Zurich. This made the ride extra long. Zurich was our final night, so I booked an airport hotel, of course, the Hilton. Hilton was changing their point structure, so we used all of our points on this trip and having 8 nights on points and only having to pay for 6, really saved us. When you have two rooms everywhere, the costs add up fast. The Hilton Zurich was a nice enough hotel, better than Milan, but still definitely a far cry from the Cavalieri.
We had to take a taxi from the main train station to the hotel and that was 50 francs. Wow. We then trained it back to the city, using Hiltons free shuttle to the airport and then onto the main station.
Zurich is a very nice little city and we really wish we had skipped Milan and went straight to Zurich and spent 2 nights there, which was my original plan.
The flight home was incredibly long and by the time we went to bed, we had all been up for over 24 hours. Exhausting!'
We overpacked big time. Just don't pack that much. I wore the same jeans I don't know how many times. The black sweater and rain jacket were used daily. Just bring lots of underwear, comfortable shoes and lots of tops. I could have brought a LOT LESS!
Some things about Europe we didn't like: The toilet paper was like sand paper! Our joke was we need to send over some Charmin. Some toilets didn't have seats. Many public toilets didn't have seats. There were very few public toilets which was tough when walking all over the cities.
No clocks in the rooms! Why no alarm clocks?
Water was never free and tap water in restaurants was non existent or they pretended to not understand. I think I was dehydrated for much of the trip.
The coin money for one dollars. I always felt like I had to carry so much heavy money. Tipping. I was so confused most of the time about whether to tip or not to tip or how much to tip. I probably short changed some very good people and overtipped others. There seemed to be no real set standard and I was never sure whether it was included or not and found some were not so honest about that.
Things I liked: Train system is very efficient and takes you everywhere and anywhere. We liked the trains and they were clean for the most part. If you are on a long haul, with luggage, definitely reserve specific seats. We were on some very crowded trains and I was always glad we had seats reserved. People had to move every time and one had the conductor come check our tickets. But, we were able to sit together and with our stuff so that was good.
People were very friendly for the most part. We found in Lugano, most thought we were Germans since we are fair and blond. Many spoke Italian or German to us. In Florence, we were spoken to in Italian also. In Rome, everyone knew we were Americans.
Our favorite parts: Lugano, Locarno, Florence and Tuscany. Rome was neat to see all the history, but it was not my favorite city and seemed so touristy. I felt like we had great meals until we went to Rome where we definitely experienced more of the tourist establishments and pricing.
All in all, it was a great trip and a nice way to go with the kids. It is expensive even with using points. Every meal was a lot, but hey, it is vacation. I just don't know how some people afford these trips with kids and they have to pay full freight. We had three free plane tickets with frequent flyer points and paid for one. Each fare was 1400 round trip. So, it can add up quickly for a family to take a trip.
Crime. We called it being bamboozled. That also was used for being ripped off in stores and restaurants!
We fortunately did not experience any losses due to crime. I will say that my DD's purse was cut in Rome, but she happened to have her hand on it. She never even felt it. She just went to take a picture and the purse dropped to the ground. She didn't see anyone or feel anyone try to get her purse. Her purse had snacks in it which I think she would have punched someone if they tried to take them. Her food is very important to her. Other than that, we were okay, but we were very vigilant in the train stations and while walking around. I think being aware helps.
Anyway, I have many cards from the restaurants we ate at. I just am trying to remember what we had and where. I ate pizza and pasta for 14 days straight and need to go on a massive diet to get rid of my even larger muffin top.
DD, who was picky about food tried and loved Sea Bass and Guinea Fowl. She was my most experimental on the trip. Who would have thought?
14 days goes by fast, but we were all ready to come home by the end of the trip. We were tired from all of our moving around. Great trip.
Thanks to all who gave us advice. kybourbon, thanks for the advice on the trains. You saved me a lot of money!
It can be very confusing to figure out the booking of some of the stuff. I feel somewhat of a pro now, but until I go to book the next big trip and a whole new adventure, I will be back for advice because each place is so unique!
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Our European Family Vacation began by flying Delta Air from Richmond, VA through Atlanta to Zurich Switzerland.