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Fun4all4 Trip Report: Family vacation to Swizerland and Northern Italy

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We have just returned from a fabulous trip to Switzerland and Northern Italy. The summary of the trip is as follows: We flew from Dulles to Zurich then took a train to Luzern for a 4 hour walkabout and lunch and continued on into the Swiss Alps where we stayed in Wengen for 3 nights. Then, we trained to Milan for one night before going on to Limone sul Garda on Lake Garda for 4 nights. We finished our trip with 3 nights in Venice. This was a family trip consisting of me, DH, and our 2 sons, ages 12 and 15 (D and J). The boys visited London with us in December, but this was their first time to Italy or Switzerland. DH and I have been to Rome, Florence and Tuscany, but this was our first time in Switzerland or Northern Italy. Having learned that it does not work for our family to simply check off an endless list of sights and knowing that our capacity for churches and museums is limited, we found this trip to be pure heaven for us. We really spent a lot of time relaxing and soaking up the culture of smaller places – lots of time hiking, swimming and reading was awesome for us.

I will do my best to be fairly comprehensive without going into every detail. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. I have tried to include prices of things if I could remember or find the receipts. I would say that we are slightly above moderate in terms of our budget…..we are not budget travelers nor are we luxury/deluxe. We usually stay in nice 3* places with the occasional upper 2* or 4*. I look for smaller, family-run B&B’s or hotels that are very nice and a reasonable value, but do not scrimp. We like good food and particularly want to sit down to a nice dinner. We eat a smallish breakfast (well, not the 15 year old), usually a panini or salad for lunch, and perhaps a gelato snack, then a full dinner. Breakfast was included everywhere we stayed and dinners were included in Wengen and Limone.

Friday, June 16th

Our driver picked us up at 1:45 pm and we arrived at Dulles airport just before 3:00. Dulles was busy with summer travelers (including a number on their way to Germany for World Cup), but the lines at United and security moved fairly smoothly, and we were at the gate with plenty of time to spare. Our flight left on time at 6:03 pm. We are United frequent flyers since Dulles is a big hub and have always had good service domestically. However, I thought this international flight on a 767 was ok, but not great. The service was adequate, but not overly friendly or accommodating. Of course, as I don’t care for flying, any flight that is relatively smooth and lands safely is a good one, so I am willing to be a little uncomfortable for 7 hours if it gets me to Europe. None of us got a ton of sleep, but we did get 4-5 hours off and on which was enough to get us through the next day.

Saturday, June 17th Zurich to Luzern to Wengen…Adventure to some, ordeal for others….we chose “Adventure.”

The day started smoothly with an early arrival in Zurich. Swiss efficiency was the order of the day and we had our bags and were through customs in no time. Note on luggage and traveling light: We each carried a carry-on size bag that we checked on the plane. For DH and J that meant a Patagonia “MLC” (Maximum Legal Carryon) bag that can be carried or worn as a backpack. As I had shoulder surgery last year, that was too much for my shoulder, so D and I each brought Rick Steves’ 21” Roll-Aboard bag which had tons of room. We also each carried a backpack as our personal item (and I had a small purse inside that for going out and around). We chose to check our bags for the nonstop flight, but the importance of packing light cannot be overemphasized. We traveled by train, bus, water taxi and foot during this trip and there were many places with steps or long connecting points… was great that we could each manage our own bags easily.

Anyway, we were able to make the 8:47 train from the airport to Luzern which was an hour earlier than we thought we would make. Before leaving, I worked with BETS (Budget European Travel Service ) to purchase Swiss Rail passes as well as point-to-point tickets for Italy. They were great and I highly recommend them. They spent a ton of time with me working out the best routings for a fee of just $15 and that included mailing all the tickets to me with clear directions attached. We bought 1st class Swiss saver passes for the 2 adults and requested a free Swiss family card which allowed the boys to travel with us for free – awesome deal. The trip from Zurich was a snap, and we arrived in Luzern just before 10:00. We stowed our bags in luggage lockers (the ones downstairs are closed due to some remodeling/construction so use the ones on either end of the tracks) and off we went to explore and have lunch for 4 hours before our Golden Pass tickets to Interlaken and then on to Wengen through Lauterbrunnen. We knew this would be a longish day but it worked out well to be busy and outdoors instead of thinking about jet lag.

The weather for this section of the trip was predicted to be poor…rainy and cool…..I was worried about going all the way to the Swiss Alps and not being able to see a thing due to clouds and fog. Luckily, we found a delightful, warm day awaited us which was to be true for our entire trip (truth be told, Northern Italy was downright HOT with quite a heatwave).We followed the simple, introductory walk around Luzern as recommended in the Fodor’s guidebook.

Our first stop just outside the train station was the Culture Center which had some sort of Swiss Festival going on with flags waving, bands playing and costumed musicians marching. It was fun and entertaining, and the whole family marveled at the large glasses of beer everyone was drinking 10 in the morning – different than home. We saw the old wooden covered bridges of Kappelbrucke and Spreuerbrucke. Spreuerbrucke dates from 1408 and the interior gables have 17th century paintings that depict scenes from the “Dance of Death” – medieval in style – which chronicles the plague from the 14th c. We walked through the lovely streets and squares with their frescoed buildings and fountains. We had a yummy lunch at Café Hug (River Café) by Spreuerbrucke with gorgeous views of the river. I had lovely rosti, DH, J and D had salami, ham and turkey sandwiches which were very tasty. The service was quick and friendly our our bill came to 66.10 chf including beverages.

Heading back around, we detoured to see the Panorama which we decided not to enter and then went on to the Lowendenkmal (Lion Monument) which is carved into stone in moving memory of 760 Swiss Guard who died defending Louis XVI of France in 1762 at the Tuileries.

We returned to the train station, picked up our luggage and easily found our train and seats in the specially reserved Golden Pass dome cars. Prepared for smooth sailing as we were tired and ready to get to Wengen in comfort and ease, we could not know that a mini-adventure was about to commence. The train pulled out on time, but didn’t get far….within 15 minutes it was clear that there was engine trouble and we had only reached a station just outside Luzern. The train conductor simply told everyone to get off the train and get on the one on the next track which was a regional train (bye-bye dome car and special seats and views). Several stops later we reached the end of the line and the hundred or so people trying to go on to Interlaken emptied the train at a small station whose name I cannot recall. Within minutes a bus pulled up, and everyone along with their belongings got on the bus. We rode for about an hour on very narrow, winding roads before arriving at yet another station where we got on another train bound for Interlaken. Once in Interlaken, we caught the next train to Lauterbrunnen and the cog up to Wengen. Amazingly, we arrived only 20 minutes later than our planned arrival. We did not get to ride the dome car, but the efficiency with which the Swiss transportation folks adapted to the breakdown was amazing. I can tell you that we rode 6 different trains plus a bus that day so we were very thankful to have packed light! In retrospect, how one deals with the unexpected during a trip can really make or break a trip – in fact, some of our most memorable moments come from the times when things go awry , and I believe I have grown in patience, flexibility, self-reliance and overall gotten to practice being a more positive person from traveling. We also met a really nice couple and their son as we made our way to Interlaken.

As we arrived in Wengen on a later train than planned, we called the Hotel and they sent a mini-van to pick us up and bring us to the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Alpenrose which was lovely. The service was gracious and the food delicious. I would highly recommend it – I will say that one should be aware that this hotel catered to a mostly older crowd, however, that may not always be the case. It was only mid-June so European kids were not yet out of school. Instead of the 2 rooms we had booked, we were given their 3-bedroom apt. which was in a building a couple of doors up from the hotel. Initially, I was a little miffed as I had made the reservations months in advance and, in typical fodorite fashion, reconfirmed both the hotel and that we had rooms near to each other. However, the apartment could not have been better. We had tons of room to spread out and each boy had his own room. The views off the balcony were breathtaking and it was completely peaceful and quiet. There was a full kitchen which we never used since we had MAP at the Alpenrose for meals and we were always out hiking during lunchtime. I would definitely return.

After an excellent dinner of consumme, lasagna Bolognese, salad, beef with potatoes and cabbage and an extensive dessert buffet with cheese board, we were stuffed and exhausted. However, we forced ourselves to watch the USA v. Italy match which ended in a 1-1 tie – a crazy game which ended with 3 players being sent off. You will notice that we are huge soccer/football/calcio fans who reveled in being in Europe during World Cup. We took many opportunities to watch the games and enjoy the atmosphere.

Sunday, June 18th Wengen and a long hike

We slept in till 9:00 am and woke up to a stunning, clear, sunny morning over the Alps. By 10:00, we were headed up to town where we grabbed a pasty and took the cable car from Wengen to Mannlichen high above. The 2 kids were free and B and I were half-price for a total of 11.5 chf (just under $10). I was scared, but the guys loved it! From there we took the famously spectacular, if slightly crowded, hike to Kleine Scheidegg. We stopped for lunch just above and before reaching Kleine Scheidegg (see photos) and would recommend this restaurant for lunch. The views were great, the service nice, and the food tasty. Three of us got sandwiches and salads and one got a bowl of pasta Bolognese. We also got sodas and water. The total for lunch was 60 chf which is not cheap, but neither is Switzerland. Plus, the ambience couldn’t be beat. We did find that drinks, especially sodas, really added up for us. I also tended to order several large acqua naturale (without gas/bubbles) everywhere we went for hydration. It was vacation so we didn’t fuss much over sodas and stuff, but without them you could save some real money.

From Kleine Scheidegg it is possible to hike down directly to Wengen or take the rail back down, but we opted for a much longer loop past Biglenalp and Mettlenalp which was glorious. We passed cows with bells (watch out for cowpies!” says D – a kid who has now learned from experience), a man playing an alpenhorn, waterfalls, wooded areas and open alpine meadows filled with wildflowers. It was stunning. We started hiking from Mannlichen a little before 11:00 and didn’t arrive back in Wengen till around 4:00pm with a stop for lunch of about 45 minutes so we hiked for at least 4 hours at a pretty good pace. I’m not sure, but we’d guess we hiked at least 10-12 miles with most of it level or downhill….certainly not an advanced or challenging hike, but more than just a short stroll. Still, it was perfect for us.

Upon returning, we went to Rocks Bar with its friendly bartender from New Zealand. We had beer and sodas and water, used the internet (free with purchase of any drink), and watched the second half of the Croatia v. Japan match.

We headed back to the hotel for a shower and rest before having dinner at the Hotel. Again, the food was excellent. We had shrimp cocktail, cream of tomato soup, salads, guinea fowl (like chicken) with curry fruit, rice and orange parfaits for dessert. In our room we watched the France v. Korea match and promptly fell asleep. It was a full and amazing day with glorious scenery. We all agreed it was so pretty it looked like a fake movie set.

Monday, June 19th Wengen ….Lauterbrunnen, Trummelbache, Murren

It was hard to wake up at 7:30 this morning, but we wanted to make breakfast at the Alpenrose by 8:00 before heading off. And, while we are all in good shape and physically fit, we were a bit sore from the hike. Our bodies weren’t used to that downhill motion for such a long time. The Alpenrose serves a lovely breakfast with croissants, breads, yogurts, cereals, and fruit as well as eggs and cheeses and meats. We spent a bit of time plotting out our plan for the day, then took the train down to Lauterbrunnen in the valley below. We walked through the valley along the river which was gorgeous – there were many wildflowers in bloom and a number of waterfalls along the way. We arrived at Trummelbache Falls which was very cool (literally and figuratively). Admission was 4 chf for the kids and 11 chf for the adults – the total came to about $24. These are falls within the walls of rock and they are impressive. Next, we headed for Stechelberg where we took the cable car up to Gimmelwald and changed to another to reach Murren – Part of the reason this day took a little while to organize is the one of the main cables up that side of the valley to the Murren area is out for construction so you have to plot your route with a few “you can’t get there from here” issues. No problem, though, and very easy once we figured it out. We strolled through lovely and quiet Murren and had lunch at Restaurant La Grotte at the Hotel Blumental. Our outside seats were enjoyable and our server was helpful and attentive. D had a sandwich, B had veal sausage with rosti, I had spaetzele (sp?) in a brown sauce with mushrooms and J had the fondue which was awesome. Actually, everyone’s meal was delicious and I’d recommend this place for lunch.

We shopped a bit before reversing our course back to Wengen arriving around 4:00 pm. Stopping by Rocks Bar again, we checked our email and sent my father birthday greetings, got some cold drinks, and watched some of the Swiss v. Togo match. Shopped a little more, then headed back to the hotel to relax and organize ourselves for our journey to Milan the next day. We enjoyed our dinner of soup, gnocchi with tomato sauce, pork steaks with potato and cauliflower, and fruit n’cheeses for dessert. The menu selections sound fairly simple and they were, but they were also creative (the sauces, the way the veggies were prepared, etc….) and the flavors and preparation were great.

Tomorrow…..on to Italy and Milan!!

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    Sounds like a great trip. We honeymooned in the Interlaken area some years ago. I know our kids would enjoy it. My 13 year old wants to take German in high school and she doesn't want us to go to any German speaking country until she has at least a year of German, so our trip will have to wait a few years.

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    Salü Fun!

    I've been reading your report. I was just in Lucerne the other night doing a city tour with my English students. It was the first time I went over the Spreuerbrücke. I didn't even know it existed! We looked at the paintings carefully and were told that some of them had figures of the sponsers of the painting. The Totentanz was all about the pest and that in death, we are all equal. As you come out on the old town side, you walk by the historical mint building, where they used to make money before they had the Swiss Francs.

    You were very lucky to get the apartment. Space is a precious thing in Switzerland!

    Looking forward to more installments.

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    Hey fun4all4, welcome home sweetie! I wanted to welcome you home but didn't want to rush thru your report, so now that I said hi, I can go up and read, taking it all in!

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    Thanks everyone! It is good to be back (well....sort of good if you know what I mean ;-) ).

    missypie, you and your kids will love the Berner Oberland. It is so beautiful with so much fun outdoors stuff. We are thinking of returning during ski season at some point.

    schuler, I'm glad you are reading and enjoying. You provide so much great info on the area - thanks.

    Tiff, thanks for the warm welcome - you are the greatest. Hope you enjoy the report.

    bd - you all will love the Alpenrose and Wengen. Have a great trip!

    OK, here is the next installment:

    Tuesday, June 20th Wengen to Milan

    We woke up at 7:00 am in order to be at breakfast by 7:30. We enjoyed our coffee, yogurt with granola, and croissants. Again, J eats some of everything! I’m glad breakfast and many dinners are included with 2 boys. We were driven to the station at 8:00 am in order to catch the 8:18 train. The trip went Wengen to Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken to Spiez (all within an hour or two), then Spiez to Milan on the main line down. This time all our connections were smooth, easy and ontime. The trip was very comfortable and the scenery pretty. We arrived at Milano Centrale at 13:35 and easily found a taxi to bring us to the Hotel dei Cavalieri. We had 2 connecting rooms with large, clean marble bathrooms for each room. The lobby is quite modern and service was efficient, but not as warm as in the smaller places we stayed the rest of the trip – this was, after all, more of a big city business hotel, but our rate was good at 129€ per room and the location was convenient.

    Shortly after arriving, we walked to the Duomo which I have wanted to see since my college art history days…the front was largely covered in scaffolding and draped, but it was still amazing. It was after 2:00pm and we hadn’t eaten yet so we went into a cafeteria-style restaurant called Ciao which was perfect. The food was good although a few stations had closed due to the late hour. We seemed to be the only non-Italians there, but if was definitely off-time. Risotto and salad for B and me, Pasta for J, and a pork cutlet for D along with an assortment of drinks that all hit the spot. Then we bought our tickets to climb up to the roof of the Duomo which was well worth it – being up there with the gargoyles and grotesques was very cool and the church is so ornate in its decoration…I took a ton of pictures up there. We also took a little time to view the inside of the Duomo. We strolled through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele which was neat, but I couldn’t imagine really shopping at these top designer places (at least not until I win the lottery). As we had now been in Italy for several hours, it seemed we had waited more than long enough before our first gelato. The Odeon Gelateria is on the Piazza on the opposite side from the Duomo looking out. D and B got pistacchio and I ordered a split of my 2 favorite flavors – chocolate and hazelnut (nocciola). Yummmm!

    Next, we walked down through Piazza Mercanti and Via Dante to Castello Sforzesco which is fairly imposing. I can believe it was hard to penetrate by enemy forces. On the other side we stepped in Parco Sempione before deciding we were hot and tired and ready to go back to the hotel.

    I didn’t mention that this happened to be B’s 50th Birthday. Our first reservation was for a place that was quite fancy and expensive, but we decided we would really be happier at a more casual place. I had some Fodorite notes along and realized that Ristorante du Bruno on Via Gonzago was just a block from our hotel so we made reservations there for 8:30. Back to the hotel for showers and rest time. The food was great and the service very friendly. They offered us seats near the TV so we could watch the England v. Sweden match along with many others who were dining. We also found it necessary to state our position on whether we root for Milan (AC Milan) or Inter (Inter Milan)….we are Milan, but our server was not. He did point out the other servers who were for Milan. Clearly, everyone knows whose team is whose! He asked me if I was from Italy and when I said my mother’s family is Italian and from Reggio Calabria, he had to bring over another guy from that area to discuss family names and such. It was pretty funny. For dinner the 4 of us split 3 primi of Carbonara, Risotto Milanese and ravioli. All were good, but the carbonara was voted the best. In honor of B’s birthday, we ordered a very nice Nobile Montepulciano which was delicious. For dinner we had various grilled veal dishes and a custard and apple tart for dessert.

    Back to the hotel and to bed.

    Wednesday, June 21st Milan to Limone sul Garda

    We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel after checking out and storing our luggage. A longish and not very direct walk brought us to Santa Maria della Grazie for our reserved time (in English) to view the Last Supper. What a great experience (says me – the art history buff). It was one of those moments when you can’t believe you are really seeing something you have heard so much about. Then, we headed to the amazing and very old Romanesque church of Sant’ Ambrogio….the 3 churches we visited in Milan were so different that it was easy to teach the boys about several of the styles we saw.

    Back near the hotel, we went into Pizzeria Dollaro as soon as it opened at noon. We each got a delicious pizza, but we really only needed 2 instead of 4……we left a lot of food. Mine had artichokes, mushrooms and prosciutto. Total lunch cost with drinks was about 50 € . At the hotel, we picked up our bags and had them call us a cab. Our taxi got us to Milano Centrale quickly, but we did not know that a long day awaited us. It seems our train luck had run out again…..

    I like to be early and prepared on travel days, especially in unfamiliar territory. It was not necessary nor a particularly good idea to be over an hour early for our train. It was very hot and muggy and the Fascists (Mussolini had this station built in 1931) apparently were not much on sitting around because there were very few benches. So, we plopped ourselves on the floor and took out our books and ipods. About 15 minutes before departure, we headed for our track and discovered our train was in the station. We boarded our first class car and found our reserved seats. The AC was clearly broken in our rail car as we proceeded to sit….and sit….and sit. The few announcements made were in Italian only so I only caught a word or two here and there. Finally, I “talked” to a couple of Italian guys sitting behind us and gathered that there was a strike and/or problems on the track ahead. We were delayed by 40 minutes, then were told it would be 90 minutes, then we were told we were leaving NOW and the train pulled out. We stopped again about 30 minutes into the journey. Our destination was Desenzano at the southern end of Lake Garda. Our expected layover time between train and bus was an hour. We pulled in 5 minutes after our bus to Limone departed Desenzano. The next bus was 2 hours later (6:30 pm) and there was no luggage storage so B and J took turns hanging with the luggage while the others went to a café/bar for cold drinks and ice creams and played cards.

    The bus left promptly at 6:30 and we arrived in Limone around 8:00pm. It was a long, confusing and sticky walk to the hotel with our bags through the charming cobbled streets of Limone. I made a note to make sure to ask for a lift back to the bus stand on the return. Finally, we found ourselves at our destination and home for the next 4 nights….Hotel Villa Romantica right on the lake and a 5-10 minute walk from the downtown area of Limone. They served us dinner even though the seating was at 7:00 (I noticed that Northern Italy dining times were earlier than when we were in Rome. And, this area serves mostly German and British tourists so that may also account for the earlier time. Plus, they said they were serving earlier than usual so that everyone would be finished in time to go down to the covered pool bar area where there was a big screen set up for World Cup). Dinner was delicious. Francesco and the staff were very warm and friendly. The hotel, especially guest rooms, are fairly simple but very clean with modern bathrooms. There is no AC which I did not think would be a problem in June on the lake…it wasn’t really a problem, but it was quite warm and we had to keep our shutters wide open at night (with lights out so no bugs). Overall, this was a great place with great food and magnificent views. Once we got over the initial strain of the long travel day, we began to melt into real relaxation mode for the rest of our time at Lake Garda! We watched the second half of the match and went to bed.

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    Hi fun4all4! Enjoying your report, now I have to add Switzerland to my list of places to go. Can't wait to hear about your relaxing time at the Lakes as well as Venice. My favorite gelato flavor is nocciola too!!!

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    Great trip report, fun4all4. We have been to the Austrian alps, but in winter. I'd love to go when we could hike.

    Missypie, both my daughters took German in high school. We have taken two European trips with them to German-speaking countries (Germany and Austria). Somehow, I usually end up being the one who does the speaking in German, and my command of the language is pathetic! They do enjoy using their language studies in their travels.

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    Thanks, everyone, for the positive comments. :-) It is nice to know people are reading (and hopefully enjoying) the report. I hope it is helpful. I am not the most entertaining writer - hey, we can't all be like MaiTai Tom - but I am glad if I can give something in return for all the assistance I receive when planning.

    Next installment:

    Thursday, June 22nd Lake Garda

    You will find that for the next few days of this report there is not much mention of specific sites visited or timing details….some people might be bored or find it wasteful of time to spend so much of their European trip relaxing…we, however, found this part of the vacation to be glorious. Our basic schedule was sleep in, eat breakfast, walk into Limone and take ferry to another village for strolling, shopping, and lunch, then back to hotel in afternoon for swimming and relaxing by the pool and lake with our books, then showers, dinner, World Cup. There were no other Americans at our hotel…in fact, the only Americans we saw during this entire part of the trip was a family we know from home that had followed our plan to visit Limone and we overlapped them by one day.

    OK…..our first morning in Limone. After a lovely breakfast, we walked into Limone and were impressed by the selection of shops. B got a new pair of shoes while we were waiting for the ferry. We are not huge shoppers on vacation, but I think we did a fair amount of shopping on this trip, both at Lake Garda and in Venice.

    Riva was our destination for the day, and the ferry ride felt great. Finally, some cooling breezes. The ferry goes by Torbole first which is known for its windsurfing. We alighted at Riva which is pretty, but definitely busier and bigger than Limone. There were a lot of souvenir shops and some nice looking hotels and restaurants. After exploring the town, we stopped for lunch at Café Citta right near Hotel Sole on the main piazza area. We had 4 tasty panini with drinks for 27 €. This was a place for sandwiches and ice creams and not really a full restaurant.

    As it turned out there was no internet café in Limone so J wanted to find an internet point in Riva. We did find the one in Riva, but it was closed from 12:30-4:30 which seemed like a rather long siesta, especially for an internet café. Oh well, as it was only around 2:00, we were not going to wait.

    We walked back to the ferry dock and returned to Limone. We arrived back at the hotel and changed into bathing suits for a delightful afternoon by the pool and lake. The Italy v. Czech match was a 5:00pm game that day so we watched at the pool bar.

    Dinner at Villa Romantica was always a treat. With 4 nights, we had thought we would skip the hotel dinner a couple of times to go out elsewhere, but the food was so good and it was so comfortable and easy to stay put, that we never had dinner out. Each night we started with an incredible antipasto bar….there was salad, artichokes, grilled peppers and eggplant and zucchini, marinated mushrooms, cheeses, salami and ham, olives, various breads and more. Yummmy! Our primi that night was pasta with butter and fresh sage, the main dish was swordfish and we finished with a very custardy tiramisu. B, D, and I decided to stroll back into town for our evening passaggiata while J opted to hang at the hotel. It was just so wonderful…..there was a band playing, the village was lit up, and it was so peaceful as we gazed out over the lake.

    Back to the hotel and to bed. By the way, we had 2 rooms right next to each other at this hotel. Both overlooked the lake. Breakfast and dinner were included.

    Friday, June 23rd Lake Garda

    It was another hazy, warm, and relaxing day on Lake Garda. We took the ferry to Malcesine which is another charming lake town with a Castello (castle). J found an awesome leather backpack which we splurged to buy him – it won’t really work for his schoolbooks, but will be perfect for him to carry on all his future travels. As we walked, we came across a lovely promenade and watched some kids at sailing school. We ate lunch at a ristorante on the water that was ok, but not worth recommending…the service was slow and choppy, the food was decent although not special…bill was 58€.

    Again, we spent the afternoon reading and swimming by the pool and lake. It really works to do this on vacation with our kids – we are so much more relaxed with each other when we build in and allow for down time.

    Dinner was again very good. The service was a little slow as they were apparently down a person in the dining room that week. Luckily, we were in no hurry so we simply enjoyed our time together and our lake view. After the antipasto, there was pasta auilo and olio (garlic and olive oil), then pork with bacon and broccoli and for dessert, pannecotta (cooked cream) with peach sauce. Really, it is amazing I did not gain weight during this trip! Afterwards, B, D, and I sat on the patio with coffee and played cards before meeting J in the pool bar to watch the France v. Togo match. It was great to watch these matches in Europe….that night there guests from Germany, France, England, Italy and the US all watching together.

    It was a bit hard to fall asleep as it was quite hot and there was loud music playing from a concert across the water in Malcesine. Eventually, however, we drifted off for a good nights sleep.

    Saturday, June 24th Last Day on Lake Garda

    Another hot and sunny day. Friends from home, L, J and L, were arriving in Limone that day so we arranged to meet them at their hotel at 11:30. They stayed at Le Palme right in the center of town. The rooms are charming and old-style, almost Venetian in feel, and there is A/C which was a plus this particular week. Nonetheless, despite initially wanting to book there, I am much happier with our choice of Villa Romantica. It is much quieter, has a “younger” crowd, great dinners included, a large pool and direct lake access.

    Anyway, the kids (L is a 14 year old boy) want to have a swim and then get a bite to eat before needing to be at the dock in town for their boat rental at 2:00. We all go back to Villa Romantica (I had asked Francesco for permission to have them as guests at the pool for the day). J and L went into town to get lunch on their own and the rest of us followed a bit later on. Limone was small and so safe and friendly – it was nice for all of us, especially 15 year old J, that we felt comfortable having the kids go around some on their own. Some of J’s best experiences came from needing to order lunch on his own and trying to purchase the correct phone card and ask how it worked.

    B,D, and J grab a sandwich and a drink and, after meeting up with L and J, the 5 guys head off for a couple of hours on the motorboat. L and I spend a glorious couple of hours at lunch. We share a salad, pizza, water, and wine outside on the promenade of Limone overlooking the water (it is a ristorante with a white fence on the promenade right near the boat rental dock). They had been to Paris and Venice before arriving in Lake Garda. We swap stories of our trip and revel in the day, each others company, and how fortunate we are to be able to have this experience.

    The boys check in around 3:30 – they are soaking wet….it turns out, B “porpoised” the boat trying to maneuver in some heavy boat traffic and choppy water. L left to go out on the water with her DH and son and the four of us went back to the hotel for swimming, reading and relaxing. We agreed to meet back up at our hotel at 7:00pm for dinner all together which Francesco had arranged earlier in the day.

    Another yummy dinner and it was so fun sharing the evening with friends. After the antipasto course, the primi was ravioli with spinach and ricotta, the secondi was beef served over rocket (arugula), and dessert was fruit in grappa. The game that night was Argentina v. Mexico, and it was a good one. Our friends left at halftime. D fell asleep completely upright in his chair….when I asked if he wanted to go up to bed, he opened his eyes, said “No, this is a very important game,” and then proceeded to fall immediately back to sleep. The game was still tied at the end of regulation, but I took D up to bed at that point. B and J stayed up with Francesco and Veronica (his girlfriend who also works at the hotel). By the middle of overtime, all the other guests had gone to bed. Francesco and Veronica, who were really on their own time at this point, took out pistacchios, wine, and other snacks which they shared and the 4 of them stayed up to watch the entire game.

    Just after B and J came upstairs, there was a HUGE storm. Within minutes the wind kicked up, shutters were slamming everywhere, rain was coming down in buckets, and the lightning and thunder were amazing. The thunder really echoes between the mountains. It was an awesome last night as we listened to the storm which went on and off all night.

    Tomorrow…. Limone to Desenzano to Venice

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    Thanks again everyone! Here is the final installment. I will not be on the computer again till Sunday night as DH and I are going to NJ this morning for 2 days. This is a 50th birthday celebration for him and about 7 of the friends he grew up with....they all turn 50 this year and we've got a party to attend.

    In the next couple of days, I will post my photos.

    Sunday, June 25th Lake Garda to Venice

    The showers overnight had cleared leaving a lovely, but steamy morning. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes, and Francesco drove J with our luggage (his car was too small for all of us and luggage, but we did not want to walk up the hill with our bags) to the bus “station” while the rest of us walked through the cobblestone streets up to the main road. The bus from Limone to Desanzano left at 9:30 and arrived at 11:00. We had reservations on the 12:13 train to Venice, but we hopped on the 11:13 and found seats. Better to be in Venice an extra hour than hang around a train station! The bus worked out great – it was clearly a local bus used mostly by Italians, but there was plenty of room and the buses were new, timely, clean and modern. It was a great deal as tickets for all 4 of us were 18€ each way.

    The train arrived at Santa Lucia at 1:20 and we took the #82 vaporetto to San Marco with an unintended stop and change at Rialto. We knew from this website to make sure the water bus was going all the way to San Marco as some turn around at Rialto, but somehow I got confused – I thought we were on the right one, but were not. No big deal, though. Another came along within 10 minutes. We followed our directions easily through a very hot and crowded Piazza San Marco then twisted and turned a bit and wound up in a private courtyard in front of a lovely door. Before we could confirm that this was, indeed, the right place, the door opens and we are welcomed with, “Ciao C!” It was Gigi (Luigi) from the delightful Locanda Orseolo – the charm and service of this small hotel are exceptional. Our quad room was on a small canal and had a huge king bed in one area and 2 twin beds in another area – not really 2 rooms, but a room with a dividing wall. The canal location is great, but it can be a little loud in the early morning as the boats supplying the city pull up… was fine with us because we enjoyed lying there hearing the morning sounds of a city waking up.

    By the time we are checked in and settle, it is after 2:00 and all are hungry. We step just outside our courtyard gate and on the left is a small café with tables in Campo San Galo. Four sandwiches ( I always seem to order a pomodoro – tomatoes, cheese, and basil just make me happy) and cold drinks revive us. Bruce’s grilled vegetable sandwich was great. Back at the room…..ahhhhhh! Air conditioning! I don’t mean to sound spoiled, but after 5 days without it and a long day of travel on a very warm day (90+ F), it felt great. The boys beg to stay in the room and rest and read, and I agree that is fine….however, I am in Venice for the first time and must explore this city that I have dreamed of. B and I walk off to explore Piazza San Marco. As it is now 4:30, the crowd has cleared considerably and the lines to enter the Basilica are almost non-existent so we decide to go in – it is absolutely stunning. The mosaics cover much of the church and I love mosaics! I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I think it may have been one of the times the Church was lit up. It was a Sunday afternoon and the mosaics were quite vivid.

    We head back to the hotel within an hour of leaving and take showers and relax before going out for the evening. Before dinner we were meeting up with a couple we know from home who happened to have just ended their cruise in Venice. They were leaving the next morning. They were staying at the Westin Europa and Regina which is a grand and lovely hotel on the Grand Canal. We had drinks on the deck overlooking the water which was really a treat. I loved having the opportunity to spend some time there, but I still prefer staying at a smaller, more intimate hotel. Nonetheless, we enjoyed seeing our friends – the boys were able to order special nonalcoholic beverages (think virgin dacquiri, Italian style) at 12 € a pop. Their instructions were to order ONE.

    After our drinks we left to go to Acqua Pazza for our dinner reservation. This is our first time to really navigate in Venice other than the main square and, while we do fine, it is immediately apparent why everyone talks about getting lost. I am glad I was warned and prepared to enjoy the experience of being confused or I might have been very frustrated! Our meal was fantastic – I insisted, on jgg’s recommendation, that we order the seafood appetizer platter (which at dinner turned out to be 40€). It was awesome, but too much food, especially since the boys did not eat their share of the squid, mussels, shrimp w/rocket, fried artichokes, lox w/capers, tomato cheese sandwiches, octopus and more. Sharing this with another adult couple would have been perfect. The boys got incredible pizzas and we got the pasta w/seafood recommended by our server – it was delicious and the pasta was perfectly al dente. We had a bottle of wine, waters, sodas for the kids, and espresso to end the meal. They also served us limoncello which was the best I have had and so refreshing on a warm evening. Total bill came to 171 €.

    When we returned to our room, we caught the second half of the Portugal v. Holland match and then crashed!

    Monday, June 26th Venice

    Our first Locando Orseolo breakfast and it was all we had heard it would be. Barbara and Matteo do a fantastic job. There is a great buffet of yogurts, meats, grilled vegetables, fruit, breads/pastries plus cooked-to-order eggs and crepes. The cappuccino and latte were also great. The boys loved the Nutella crepes – they really were sinfully good.

    Then it was off to the Campanile for great views over Venice. It was still early (around 9:00am) so it was not crowded. We left plenty of time to get to our reserved Secret Itineraries Tour at the Doge’s Palace which was well done. We explored the Palace a bit more after the tour ended. By then it was lunchtime and necessary to leave the San Marco area as it was packed. We walked over the Accademia Bridge to Dorsoduro – by then we were famished, needed a bathroom and were so hot….we got to the area on Guidecca Canal and began to look for one of our recommended lunch places. However, we fell victim to our urgent needs and ate at an expensive and touristy and just ok ristorante. Not only that, they took no credit cards and had a huge coperto (like 4-5€ per person for lunch) and a service charge on top of that. The views were nice and we had good tuna tonnato, a salad, a pizza, and mediocre ravioli for 71 €. Of course, 5 minutes later, we came across the casual, recommended place and kicked ourselves, but what are you gonna do? We proceeded to Ca’Macana Mask Shop which the hotel suggested in Dorsoduro and purchased two masks for my wall at home. I was hoping to go on to some more sights (Frari and Campo S.M), but everyone was tired and hot so we headed back to the hotel.

    After a rest, we went to Fantasy Gelato for a cool snack – did I mention I love gelato? The kids wanted to hang so B and I took a late afternoon walk to San Zaccaria which we enjoyed. We spent some time strolling and a little confused in that area which was pleasant. Caught the Italy v. Australia match before dinner at the very pleasant Ristorante Marco Polo on S. Lio (note: Locanda Orseolo made all our dinner reservations and recommendations while we were in Venice – all 3 of our meals were great). We had an insalata caprese, gnocchi w/lobster, and the special fish of the day (not on the menu or board at all) which was a Turbot for 2. It was terrific. J had shrimp w/polenta and then spaghetti Bolognese and D had a nice salad and a peppercorn steak served with fried zucchini. Bruce had espresso and we shared a ½ carafe of house white, the boys had sodas and iced tea. Total bill came to 144€. We strolled home and stopped to pick up some Dolci. We read and played cards before heading to bed.

    Tuesdsay, June 27th Venice

    I woke up early at just after 7:00 am and decided to take advantage of the quiet to go for a solo walk around San Marco and Rialto to get a feel for it without the crowds. At 7:20 it was still very peaceful and I got some very good photos. By 8:00 am the area was beginning to bustle.

    I was back at the hotel by 8:30 to meet up with the family for breakfast. Then we bought a 24 hour vaporetto pass (up until now we did everything on foot). At 12 € per person it is quite pricey. We headed off for a morning in the Jewish Ghetto which was a must see for us. We got off at San Marcuola and it was just a short stroll through a real Venetian neighborhood to reach the Ghetto. As it was only 9:30 we wandered and hung out till the Jewish Museum opened at 10:00. The museum was small and interesting and our visit took around 20-30 minutes so we were ready for our 10:30 am tour in English (7 € for the kids and 8.50 € for the adults). The guide took us into 3 of the 5 synagogues, 2 Ashkenazic (German and French) and 1 Sephardic. It was really cool.

    We did some fabulous shopping including a painting that represents D’s upcoming Torah portion as well as a Murano glass menorah plus a number of gifts for my nieces and other friends. Back around the hotel we got some panini and drinks. B, J, and D relaxed during this hot and crowded part of the day while I stayed out for a bit more shopping for jewelry. I, too, found some time to put my feet up.

    As this was our last day in Venice and I felt we had barely touched the surface of this magical city, B, D and I went for one more late afternoon outing. We took the Vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore, on the island across from the Doge’s, which is a beautiful church designed by Andrea Palladio and has great views back towards San Marco. Then, we hopped over to Dorsoduro to spend time at the stunning Santa Maria della Salute – this baroque church is circular in style and has amazing artwork. Don’t miss the sacristy area for the best paintings (1.50 €). Before going back we wandered through a lovely neighborhood in Dorsoduro. By 6:00 the city felt peaceful.

    After showers, we walked across the Rialto to one of our favorite restaurants of the trip called Antico Dolo. It was awesome. This is a small, intimate restaurant. B and I shared an incredible seafood antipasti platter. D had a cheese selection and J had a huge bowl of mussels and clams. For dinner, D and I had pasta with zucchini and shrimp, B and J had gnocchi filled with artichoke. We shared an amazing tiramisu. Two large waters, ½ liter of house wine, and couple of espressos went with the meal. They served prosecco to start the meal at no charge. Our total bill was 150 €. It was charming with excellent service and very Italian.

    As we packed for our departure (sniff, boo hoo), we watched a disappointing Spain lose to France. It was hard to believe we had almost reached the end of the trip….it flew by.

    Wednesday, June 28th Venice to Dulles to Home

    We woke at 7:00 to finish packing and enjoy our final breakfast. Hugs and goodbyes followed as we climbed out the window of the sitting room in the lobby into our private water taxi. We wanted to splurge for this experience and the cost was 90 €. After all our independent use of train, buses, etc…., it was nice to sit back and enjoy our last minutes in Venice as they should be – relaxed and from the canals.

    We pulled into Marco Polo airport. It is a bit of a hike from the dock to the check in point and there is construction going on. After what seemed to be a minor glitch in our tickets, we were ready for our Venice to Munich flight on Air Dolomiti. It is amazing that some of these small carriers have such excellent service. The plane was loud and small, but the one hour flight featured more food and beverages (sandwiches and such) than one gets on a US flight from DC to LA. Our layover in Munich was fine – it is a great airport. Flight home was long (at least 9 hours and we had to circle Dulles due to a storm in the area), but uneventful. The car picking us up was waiting as we came out of customs and we were home in just over an hour, exhausted but happy.

    It was a wonderful trip.

    Please feel free to ask any questions. We love to travel and share our experiences. This was a perfect family trip for us as we combined some amazing cities with hiking in the Alps and swimming in a lake.

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    This has been such an enjoyable report! I appreciated your flexiblity and good humor in the glitches that happened. You seem to be a positive person and one who would be fun to travel with. I'm so glad your family had such a wonderfuly time and that you were able to meet up with several friends on your trip.

    Thank you for all the detail and for taking the time to post this report. I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures!

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    Great report, great trip!

    "It was very hot and muggy and the Fascists (Mussolini had this station built in 1931) apparently were not much on sitting around because there were very few benches." LOL!

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    What a great trip! I can really identify with your experiences. My girls periodically need down time in the hotel (where they really enjoy local tv, although we rarely watch at home). I usually am back out, taking in the ambiance and seeing sights. I am also familiar with the early am walks in a city before joining my family for breakfast (or waking them up!)

    What is your next trip with the boys? My girls have loved Prague so much that we've been twice.

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    So great to hear you enjoyed many of the places we enjoyed in Venice - Locanda Orseolo, the little sandwich shop just left of the courtyard, Fantasy Gelato and Acqua Pazza!! I also loved watching the working boats in the morning on the canal.

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    Thanks to all who took the time to read the report.

    vickio - Thanks...I try to be a mostly positive person and it works much of the time, but not always :D

    kswl - :-)

    noe847 - I agree about the downtime. It is so nice for all of us now that the boys are old enough to be alone occassionally.

    I'm not sure where our next trip will be :-? . I usually have the next trip in mind by the time I return from one, but with crazy schedules this year and lots of ideas running around my mind, I don't know. Ideas and suggestions are welcome. And it doesn't have to be Europe.

    jgg- >:D< You are the greatest!

    saraho - thanks. How is the shoulder? Are you coming to VA anytime soon?

    julia_t - I'm really amazed by any of you who read the whole report, but I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It is a great way to relive the trip and solidify it in my mind. I also hope I can help others on this forum half as much as you all help me.

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    Thanks for posting your pictures. They are stunning, and I'd say you did end up with a few really great family photos - good for holiday cards and a great reminder of a wonderful trip. It's always tough to arrange for someone to take the family pix, and I never want to ask strangers to take several so it's sort of pot luck. Luckily with digital cameras you can tell if it's a total dud!

    Future trips you might enjoy - New Mexico was a surprise favorite of ours. My girls have loved Central Europe, especially Prague. Croatia seems to be pretty wonderful - friends of ours have just returned. Other trips highly recommended by friends with teens are a dude ranch in the (American) West, and an Alaskan cruise.

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    Good report and awesome pictures. We are heading to Switzerland on 9-13, took some notes from your report. Agree with Noe847 about Alaska, but also take a land tour or rent a car for at least a week. Thanks

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    Great reading and i love your attitude to when problems happen - have to take it as it is and an adventure - the Golden Pass snafu and the Milan-Lake Garda train problems. I too thoroughly enjoyed Lake Garda and its many gems. Seems like you have great family synergy!

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    >>>><<<<<I’m not sure, but we’d guess we hiked at least 10-12 miles with most of it level or downhill….certainly not an advanced or challenging hike, but more than just a short stroll. Still, it was perfect for us<<<>>>>>>

    Those are the best kind of walks. I mean people go there to have fun and see the great sights mostly, not to kill themselves doing difficult hikes. I mostly do about 2 of what I call challenging hikes and spend the rest of the time doing fun walks and leisurely activities.

    When I was young, I was Mr Super hiker or a wannabe anyway.

    The walk back down to Wengen is a good one, but that downhil trek was a little hard on my knees as I recall. Good hiking sticks help!

    " It's too strong, something's wrong I guess I've lost the feeling"..... The Bomber, Joe Walsh and the James Gang

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    Great report. When I was planning our Italy trip, it was originally to be only Rome and Florence, reserving Venice to be combined with a future Switzerland trip. However, the train connections from the Interlaken area to Venice seemed complicated, so I just took a few more days off, and added Venice!

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    Wow, that pic of the walk down from Kleine Scheidegg made me want to get over there now. What a tremendously excellent pic.

    Also the Kl. Scheidegg pics really caught my attention.

    Great job with the pics. Makes us all want to get there now!

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    Great comments.

    noe847 - thanks for the great suggestions. Alaska is penciled in for Summer 2008 (not 2007 because of 15yo scheduled to spend 5 weeks in Israel and friends we plan to go with want to wait till 2008).

    Prague along with Krakow is definitely on the short "list." What did your girls love about it? Do you think it would suit boys? Are there outdoorsy options to combine with the cities?

    DH and I were just thinking of NM as a possible trip for just the two of us - but, perhaps we will consider it for the family. We loved our trip to the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Sedona as a family.

    Somehow, whenever I have suggested a dude ranch all 3 of my guys have balked. Hmmm.

    Everyone seems to love Croatia so I guess it is on most of our lists.

    Other thoughts are American West (Glacier, Yellowstone, Tetons, or Oregon?). Maybe Amsterdam/Brugges?

    sidepockets- Have a great time in Switzerland. And, for sure, Alaska cruise would combine with land time.

    PalQ - Thanks! :-)

    LLindaC- I appreciate all your help in our planning. You really helped with the info and in building our excitement for our trip. It was the best.

    missypie - Yeah, Interlaken to Venice is not easy. That is one of the main reasons we stayed over in Milan although I was happy to have the chance to view the Duomo and the Last Supper. And, of course, we also planned to include a Lake and stay in the Northern part of Italy. Can't do everything even though we want to! ;-)

    sunstar- Yikes, you are right. It is a lot of downhill back to Wengen and I was wishing for some hiking poles! Even though I run and work out regularly, my knees were unhappy by the end of that hike - I was a bit sore in the morning. I know what you mean about the pictures making you want to go there - I want to go back looking at them and we just left! :D

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    Dear fun4all4:

    I really enjoyed your photos and trip report. Your photos of Wengen are spectacular, and have added some confusion about where to stay in the BO. I was thinking Murren, but now I'll reconsider. Perhaps I'll start a new thread on the topic. Looks like you had a lovely family vacation!

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    I absolutely loved your report - and your pictures are gorgeous. I'm trying so hard to pick out our vacation for 2007 and well I think we might copy yours!

    Thanks for sharing it!!

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    I will try to answer your question about why my girls like Prague, fun4all4. For starters, they really like visiting cities. I don't think they've met a European city they didn't like. But I'd say Prague won their hearts because of its incredible beauty and its vibe.

    When we visited the first time, we took the train from Germany. As soon as we crossed the border into the Czech Republic the view out the window changed. Gone were the manicured farmhouses. The buildings were all an ochre color and crumbling a bit around the edges. We were reading the guide books for Prague to see what we'd specifically like to do (we play it pretty flexible, beyond lodgings). Anyway, there were all these warnings about pickpockets and rip off taxi drivers and my younger daughter (14 at the time) started to get apprehensive. I tried to reassure her that the same could probably be said about the city we live in, or about New York City, which we have visited many times (well, not the taxi driver part), and you have to keep a certain degree of care anywhere you visit. When we pulled into the station, she truly didn't want to get off the train!

    As it turned out, the taxi driver did quote us a rate that was too high (you really do want to get your hotel to arrange transfer, or to give you an idea of a reasonable price that you can fix with the driver). We negotiated him down a bit, and he grudginly agreed, grumbling about our luggage, etc. On the way to the hotel, my husband and I decided quietly to pay him the full amount he had asked, since it was Christmas Day. I honestly don't think I've ever seen anyone so happy as when we handed him the money. He broke into a huge smile and wished us "Merry Christmas" in English (he spoke very little), which was the first time we'd heard it all day.

    By the time we left the city 3 days later, we were all fans of Prague. The city is filled with visitors, and it somehow manages to feel like the crossroads of everywhere. Lots of languages and nationalities. Everyone is having fun; the energy of the city is very positive.

    The absolute best spot in the city is the Charles Bridge, which is pedestrian only. It is just a street party all day and evening. There are musicians and art vendors lining the bridge and just throngs of people (except for very early in the morning) milling around.

    We have stayed on both sides of the river, but my girls preferred the castle side (Mala Strana). We had to cross the bridge every time we went to the old town, or the English language bookstore. This year we were right in the old town, but had to walk onto the bridge every day (even if we weren't going to the other side) just to check out the scene.

    They are getting ready to do some bridge reconstruction, which will narrow the pedestrian area significantly, so that would be something to check if you plan to go.

    The city is stunning architecturally. It retains its medieval layout, but many of the old buildings were refaced in the Baroque style (sort of like Salzburg). There are these really distinctive spires all over the place. There is a significan Jewish quarter, where Art Nouveau buildings replaced the original residences, but the magnificent synagogues can still be toured. The Jewish Cemetary is fascinating. Rabbi Loew, who created the golem, is buried here.

    The castle complex is extensive and beautiful. There are towers on both sides of the river that you can climb for amazing views. Actually, nearly every view of the city is breathtaking. There are tons of churches, including the one containing the legendary "Infant of Prague" wax statue. I think that all the things we enjoyed (except maybe the obigitory shopping that we did with the girls) would be equally attractive for boys.

    I can't address the outdoorsy aspect of the Czech Republic, as both times we went in December and pretty much did city things.

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    I am sitting at our friends' house near Zurich sadly awaiting our departure stateside... we left Wengen yesterday, and I hope our pictures turn out as great as yours. We also loved the Alpenrose. I thank you for your description of the hike down from Kleine Scheidegg, because it inspired me to add on to my originally planned hike. I combined your route with an idea from another posting, and we took the train down to Wegneralp, and started the hike from there, since my kids would not have lasted the whole way down. Instead of a straight downhill, we wound our way to Allmenden, where we stopped for ice cream(also another suggestion from that post....) and then, i have to confess that we hopped on the train for the short trip down to Wengen. that is the beauty of hiking in this area, that you have restaurants and train stops to help break up the trip for those who need to shorten their exertion! i also found that any hike one takes in this area is bound to be beautiful. just pick one based on length and difficulty, and you can not go wrong. it was great that there were so many relatively flat trails in the area, so that even if one is not an experienced or strong hiker there are fabulous journeys to take! I am glad I read these postings before our trip, because I knew to avoid the straight downhill route to Wengen. Thanks everyone.

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    so glad you loved the Alpenrose and found the hiking info useful. I look forward to hearing more about your trip when you return. It sounds like it was great. :-)

    noe - thanks for taking the time to give such detailed insight into Prague. I hope we get to go there in the next few years as it sounds awesome.

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