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Trip Report Our 3 week Switzerland and Northern Italy Trip Report

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Well here goes my first ever trip report. Largely writing this because I promised to, and I have a new question I'd like to post on a separate thread about upcoming travel; and don't feel like I can do that till this report is written! I hope it will be of some use to others who may be condsidering a similar trip.

Our trip was planned around the idea of visiting our DD, who is studying abroad for the year in Lausanne.
We booked British Air business class SFO - GVA, round trip.
Flights went smoothly and we landed in Geneva on Sept 29, 2015. We had 8 day Swiss Passes which I had purchased through Rail Europe. We found the office to get the passes validated, and then we were on our way. Took the train to Lausanne, and checked into a hotel recommended by DD's university as a close place to stay. It was the Elite Hotel, conveniently located close to the train station. We only had to lug our 20" rollers up a very steep street, turn right and walk a block or two to the hotel. We explored Lausanne on Wednesday and Thursday. Used our passes to see the Olympic Museum and to take a boat across Lake Geneva to Evian for an afternoon.

On Friday Oct 2 we took the train to Montreaux and hopped on a Golden Pass train. We got off in Interlakken and took a train to Lauterbrunnen. We stayed there for 4 nights. Stayed at the Hotel Jungfrau. The room was clean. We could see and hear Staubach Falls from the patio of our room. We ate dinner at the Silberhorn Hotel two of our 4 nights.
Saturday we took the train to Grindlewald. The views were lovely on the way there, and the town was charming. We ate lunch outside near the town square area. That particular Saturday the town was celebrating Country music. What a treat to hear Swiss bands play their version of country music. A few horses had been brought in and many children stood in line for a ride around the square. We returned to Lauterbrunnen and walked up the valley for a mile or two- we reached Trummelbach Falls but it was close to closing time so we turned around and headed back to town. We enjoyed walking past the cows with their bells, and even goats were wearing bells.
Sunday was forecast for rain. We planned to go to Interlakken for the day. However the day dawned bright, and when we got to Interlakken we got on a boat on Lake Brienzersee. We got off at Giessbach See and rode a funicular up to the Grandhotel Giessbach. What an awesome spot! We had lunch on the terrace. It was a beautiful autumn day, the leaves were beginning to turn on the trees. We walked around the hotel and its grounds. I did a little sketch overlooking the lake. As we were waiting to take the funicular down to the boat, a singing group that must have taken a day trip there grouped together and sang about three songs. Talk about a spontaneous treat- we soaked up the beauty of the music and their voices, with the sound of Geissbach falls in the background.
On Monday we again took the train to Interlakken, walked from the the East train station to the West one, past the many shops and some impressive old hotels. We stopped to sit on a bench in the central park area and watched dozens of hang gliders land right in front of us.
We returned to Lauterbrunnen, and took the train up to Wengen. We took a walk around the town, and enjoyed the views looking down on Lauterbrunnen.
We packed up that night- our next day was a big travel day.
More trip report to follow-

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    Trip report continuing:
    Tuesday Oct 6th was a big travel day for us.
    We were at the Lauterbrunnen train station before 7 to catch the train down to Interlakken. From there got on a train to Spiez. Got the 8 AM train from Spiez to Brig. We had a reservation through Trenitalia for a train from Brig to Venice. Every connection went perfectly, (just like clockwork!) and we arrived in Venice in the afternoon. Stood in a long line for vaporetto tickets. Got off at the Rialto Bridge stop, and after some hunting for street signs and following the directions given to us from our hotel, we made it to the Aqua Palace. DH had insisted on choosing our Italian hotels, he did a good job.
    We were entralled with Venice from the start. Made our way to St Marks Square, and yes it was touristy but we couldn't resist sitting ourselves down at one of the outdoor cafes, and ordering a bottle of wine to celebrate the fact we had made it to VENICE!
    I could not get over how many pigeons were in the square and how many people there seemed to encourage the pigeons to come close to them.
    We wandered the small streets and alleys of Venice a little more, and found a restaurant for dinner.
    The next day we were back at St Mark's, we had reservations to tour the inside of the Cathedral. Absolutely amazing! We had lunch along a side canal, then had tickets to tour the Doge's Palace. We ate dinner along the grand canal then took a gondola ride. The side canals were so quiet- we could hear sounds of various households as we glided past- sounds of people in conversation or listening to tv or music, or cooking and doing dishes.
    On Thursday we had made arrangements to have a guide take us on a two hour walk of Venice. Some of the area we had covered the day before but she still had plenty to show us and told us a little of the history of Venice, etc. After thanking her we headed off to see the Frari church and its famous art, then realized the Scuola Grande and Church of San Rocco was close by, home of so many paintings by Tintoretto. We enjoyed visit, it was not crowded at all so we could take our time in front of each painting.
    The following day was moving day- on to Florence. We had a few hours to roam in Venice and made a few small purchases but were mindful that we would be carrying everything we bought- so we were careful!
    We had arranged a water taxi to pick us up at the hotel to take us back to the train station. We were at the station in no time, and boarded our reserved Italo train bound for Florence.
    More trip report to follow-

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    Another trip report installation:
    Friday Oct 9th, we arrived in Florence for 4 nights around 3pm. DH had reserved a room at the Hotel L'Orologio, which was on the Santa Maria Novella square. We just needed to walk around the Santa Maria Novella church (which is next to the train station). Upon reaching the square we could not find the hotel. Had to ask a guy who was selling something (day tours I think) at a little kiosk. He pointed about 50 ft away... oh, there it is, with the tiniest sign.
    The hotel was in a good location for our sightseeing. After settling in we took off towards the Duomo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. So many people out and about. I think it was a little bit of culture shock to be in a larger city after having spent time in Lauterbrunnen and then a not too busy Venice. We really had to pay attention to the cars whizzing by on the streets.
    We returned to the hotel and had dinner at a tiny restaurant just down the street from our hotel.
    Saturday morning we had tickets reserved for the Accademia. It was raining. That really wasn't a problem as we were sightseeing inside. Oh my goodness the art. Florence has been on my list since I was in high school as the place I needed to get to. We soaked up as much as we could, with all the others there with us, and finally ventured out to find some lunch. We walked to the Mercato Centrale and wandered through the food stalls, went upstairs and came upon a piano. A sign on the piano said, "Music is food for the soul, why don't you sit and play?" DH is an accomplished pianist and actually misses playing when we travel. He needed no further encouragement. He played for about a half hour. It was so interesting to see people walk by and stop and listen for a bit.
    I had an order of freshly made Buffalo mozzarella bruschetta from one of the walk up restaurants there. Delicious!
    We had tickets for the Medici Chapel in the afternoon. It was not too crowded, so that was good. Then we took a walk over the Arno river. Can't remember where we ate dinner that night.
    Sunday morning we had tickets to go to the Uffizi Gallery. What a crowded place! We spent about 3 hours there. DH wanted to walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, so we hiked up there and enjoyed the views looking down on Florence. It was partly cloudy but in between the clouds the sky was a brilliant blue.
    Being a Sunday I thought there would be very little open in the way of shops. Was I wrong. All stores seemed to be open, and doing a brisk business. I kept thinking the stores would at least close early but they were still open into the evening. We didn't shop, but I found it interesting that the stores were open. I had been concerned about everything being closed up. DD had told us Lausanne stores are mostly closed on Sundays so I thought Florence would be the same, although we are talking about different countries so maybe that explains it. Monday we had tickets for the Bargello first thing in the morning. Although I won't say I didn't enjoy immensely all the art I was able to see at the other museums, this visit was my favorite. The Bargello was nearly empty. We had all the time to walk up, observe, look at in minute detail the various sculptures and paintings. I could have stayed there all day! After the Bargello we walked across the Arno and found a nice leather store. I had done some looking online about purchasing leather in Florence and we went into a store recommended in a Rick Steves book. We each found a leather jacket with the help of the owners and arranged to have our jackets shipped home directly from there. In the afternoon, we walked around some other areas we had not seen, had dinner at another restaurant near our hotel, and packed up for our next travel day.

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    Last of the trip report, I think.
    Tuesday Oct 13th.
    We left Florence on a train bound for Pisa. From Pisa we took a train to Monterrosso. From there we took a train to Vernazza. We had reserved a room through "MB Glam Rooms". I had called a few weeks before to get directions, and the woman had said, "When you get off the train, walk down the main street until you get to the pharmacy. Call me from there and I will take you to your room". It worked out just as she said- she was there within 5 minutes of us calling her. She took us through a narrow door, up some stairs, around some turns, up or down more stairs, till we reached our room. It was very clean and suited us just perfectly. When we looked out the window we realized we were just one story up looking over the main street.
    Vernazza is a charming village. We had a late lunch down by the tiny harbor. After walking back up to the top of the town we decided to walk on the path that would lead us to Corniglia, however it was late in the day so we didn't plan to go too far. The views were just spectacular. Every few steps we wanted to stop and take more pictures. The rock walls lining the path, the tiny plants growing between the rocks and along the hillside, the gardens tended in tiny patches of flat land, all these sights, not to mention the ocean nearby, were worthy of our attention.
    The path itself was very rocky. It had rained earlier in the day. Some areas seemed a little unstable to DH, who had had knee surgery earlier this year. We decided not to risk going too far along the path. Ordinarily we are big walkers but he was not comfortable with his footing and we sure didn't want to risk a re injury, so we returned to the town. We watched as all the fishing boats in the tiny harbor were pulled out of the water and stored everywhere in the town. In the main square near the church, up the main street, every where we saw boats!
    Had dinner at a tiny 'taverna' that night.
    The next day, we started out by visiting the laundromat and doing a couple loads of laundry. While we waited we had rolls and coffee at the nearby (1 or 2 doors up) bakery/coffee shop. I had the best cup of coffee there, and took a picture to remember it. (Actually took pictures of several of my coffees along the trip).
    After the laundry was done we took the train to Monterrosso al Mare, walked along the beach there, explored the old town, noted there were cars on the streets there and more hotels and restaurants than in Vernazza. Returned to Vernazza, I made a sketch sitting near the church. We toured the church, later had dinner at a restaurant called Vulnetia.
    After two nights in Vernazza it was time to move on. Thursday Oct 15 we were up before dawn to catch the train to Levanto. From Levanto we caught a train to Milan, then a train to Stresa on Lake Maggiore. It was raining when we arrived. Our hotel had told us they would pick us up and after some searching we found our ride. We stayed at the Villa Aminta. Oh my what a beautiful, quaint hotel. It is one of the older hotels along the lake. The decor is Belle Epoque with I think some Art Deco. The staff was extremely attentive. As it was still raining and we were starving we stayed at the hotel and had a delicious lunch. The rain stopped later and we walked into town, walking along the paths next to the lake and gawking at the huge old buildings and hotels along the way.
    Friday the sun was out. What a perfect day to visit the Bormorrean Islands. We got a ride to the ferry area, but before we could figure out where to buy the ferry tickets a man sold us two tickets going to the islands on a smaller boat. "Go stand down there by the flags and wait for so and so to get there" After 45 minutes of waiting, and seeing lots of other people arrive and get picked up, and asking the other boat drivers 'where is so and so?', we went back to the guy who sold us our tickets, gave him the tickets back got our money back and then clearly saw where we could get our ferry tickets. A bit of a waste of time but we were on our way to the islands soon enough. Visited Isola Bella first, and toured the palace and gardens. Then visited Isola Pescatore, had a coffee while waiting for the ferry to return. We stayed on the ferry for several more stops, just enjoying the views of this pretty lake.
    We had dinner in the town of Stresa this evening. Had done a little shopping there in the late afternoon, am so glad DH insisted I buy a beautiful tablecloth at one of the linen stores.
    Saturday Oct 17th. Headed back to Lausanne to see DD for a few days before heading home.
    We had reserved a different hotel this time in Lausanne, just to be in a different area. We stayed in the Ouchy area, which is right on Lake Geneva. With the Lausanne transport card it was easy to get on their tiny metro and go up the steep hills to the train station and the old town area.
    On Sunday DD had homework to do so we set off for Montreaux to visit Chateau Chillon. We walked along the lake from Montreaux to the Chateau and loved everything about the walk. The autumn feel of the air, the combinations of plants and flowers growing in the planters along the way, the light reflecting on the lake through the clouds, I could go on and on.
    The Chateaux was interesting and I learned quite a bit with one of the headsets. Returned to Lausanne, and as it was a Sunday, we knew many places would be closed, but we found some places open in the Ouchy area and had a nice dinner.
    Monday the 19th was the last full day of our trip. We asked the hotel for a late check out. Met DD in the old town area and made some purchases this day- outfits for the grandbabies, lots of chocolate for friends at home, even a new carry on to put it all in- we planned to check our expanded 20" rollers when flying home.
    Took a train to Geneva in the late afternoon, stayed in a hotel near the airport that had shuttle service every 20 minutes.
    We did take a bus into the downtown area of Geneva, and walked along the lake, but it was windy and freezing cold.
    Our flight back to SFO, via Heathrow, on Tuesday was uneventful.
    Thoughts and thanks-
    I am so thankful for the help I got on this website when planning this trip. DH commented repeatedly on the ease of all our transitions and I have many of you to thank. I learned lots just reading others questions and answers on various topics. Thank you to PalenQ for suggesting the trains and train passes, and just for the encouragement that taking trains would be the best way to go.
    Thank you to Ingo and Swandav2000 for your observations that it really was not worth the time and effort to move to Spiez for one night. Also thank you to neckervd for suggesting Lake Maggiore rather than Como given our traveling route. Chinacat thanks for your reassurances too.
    DH and I had a lovely time, and I have enjoyed writing this report more than I thought- it has brought back to mind many little details I had already forgotten. And now it is here to not forget.
    Thank you all- and now, I'll post a new question!

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    Wonderful! I really enjoyed reading about all of your little adventures and surprises as well - the choral group and the inviting piano. And taking pictures of the cups of coffee. :).

    We are going to Florence and the Cinque Terre in May, and I'll look at your report again for recommendations. Thank you for posting!

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