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The Oldish Couple, Rome to Zurich on 10 Trains

The Oldish Couple, Rome to Zurich on 10 Trains

Jun 18th, 2015, 05:27 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2014
Posts: 36
The Oldish Couple, Rome to Zurich on 10 Trains

Hotels And Costs
7 nights Rome, Hotel due Tori $1,450
2 nights Ravenna, M Club Deluxe B&B $203
1 night Ferrara, Hotel Annunziata $123
4 nights Venice, Hotel Principe $1,483
3 nights Verenna, Hotel Olivado $575
1 night Filisur, Hotel Schontal $153
1 night Zurich, Hotel St. Josef $220

The Time And The Season
We originally planned a trip to Switzerland in August of 2014. At the last minute we had to cancel. Swiss Air let us rebook, but we paid a penalty of $400 each, and travel had to be completed by April 25th of 2015. That’s how we became April travelers. Because of the season, we decided to spend most of our time in Italy, and fly home from Zurich. We especially wanted clear weather on the day we traveled over the Bernina route, and with some cloud monitoring, and a little last minute jiggling of destinations, we got our wish.

About Us
I am 70 and DH is 67. We live in a retirement community in Southern California. I am usually the trip planner and researcher, and DH is the guy who notices what is going on around us, keeps us safe, negotiates most things for us, makes things happen, and gets us out of the problems I get us into.
We had been to Europe 3 times in recent years, but this was our first European venture totally without a tour group. No more wake-up calls, no compromising on what sights we wanted to see, no eating at communal tables, no getting stuck for days on a bus with the guy who had a nasty chest cough. It was also the first time I didn’t come home sick. Thanks to some really wonderful encouragement from you people on Fodor's, this trip was fantastic.

I bought two different menu guides for Italy, and downloaded the most popular apps for eating in Rome, but on the ground we didn’t use them. What worked best for both of us was Fred Plotkin’s heavy book, The Gourmet Traveler. Because we were traveling light, we couldn’t take the book with us. I cut out sections pertaining to each of our destinations and we read the pages on the train while approaching each new place. We didn’t look for specific restaurants, but we did look for specific ingredients in each place. The plan to eat by region was a great success. On previous trips DH had not been impressed by Italian food. This time I was determined that he would enjoy eating. Now he raves about antipasti, Bolognese, Carbonara, and most Italian meat dishes, and I was surprised how good the plump sardines we found in Venice were. Our average dinners were usually under $40 dollars for the two of us. I ordered a glass of Prosecco whenever I could. Breakfast was included at our hotels. For lunch we found great sandwiches. It is easy to get overloaded on bread in Italy, and I much preferred the fresh whole grain breads in Switzerland. Obviously we aren’t foodies, or wine coinsures, but we did once live in the California wine country, so we are not unaware of good wine. Unfortunately wine disrupts our sleep cycles and as we have gotten more senior the lack of sleep has become problematic. We think that we ate really well, never missing out on something we wanted to try, and not settling for anything we didn’t want. We saw many American tourists in restaurants eating bowls of bland looking, pale heavy pasta, but thanks to Mr. Plotkin, it was easy to be adventurous.

Trains & Luggage
It took us a couple of train rides to become fully at ease with boarding and stowing our bags. Each train was just a little bit different in configuration. Some trains had more stairs than others, some had more space for over-head luggage, and some had good storage behind the seats. All of these particulars were important because we both have some minor mobility issues. DH has a bad back, and I need a hand rail to climb stairs. With the exception of the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii, none of the trains were crowded. Usually we could put our bags on an empty seat nearby. Uncrowded trains were one of the many bonuses of April travel.

My suitcase is a very small, trim hard-body. I also used a cross-body purse. In addition to his small suitcase, DH had a fairly heavy backpack. When he had the occasional backache I was able to put on his pack without feeling burdened. I liked using his pack because it enabled my hands to be free so that I could more easily grasp the hand rail on whatever transportation we used. Somehow I managed never to whack any passengers when turning around. The only problem I had was trying not to strangle myself with a neck scarf, a purse strap, glasses on a chain, and now and then the straps of the backpack.

We are converts to traveling with small suitcases. The big stations have escalators as well as staircases. In some of the large train stations the entrances to the escalators are narrowed with vertical metal posts. To ride the escalator you have to walk between the posts to get on. It IS possible to get a giant suitcase on an escalator, but it sure takes some finagling, and I saw a lot of people struggling with bulky, heavy bags.

For this trip we bought 2 21" soft sided expandable 4 wheel suitcases. We took a long, long time choosing them, but we wouldn't buy them again. They glide beautifully on the smooth floors of airports, but, despite what salespeople say, you can't easily slide them beside you or in front of you on the uneven aisle of a train, or over the carpet in your hotel, or over cobblestones. By the time we got to Ferrara I found a Mailbox Etc. store and sent my 4 wheeler on an expensive airplane trip back to California. DH bought me little Manderina Duck hard-body with 2 wheels. It isn’t with me right now, so I can’t measure it, but I think it is about 8 inches wide and 19 or 20 inches tall. It even came with a slipcover to keep it from getting scratched. He found it on sale in a window in one of the beautiful shops in Ravenna. That suitcase became my little blue baby, super lightweight, small, and sleek. I took care of it as if it were a jewel. The Eagle Creek Packing Cubes and Portfolios all transferred well from my old suitcase to the new one. We did laundry once on the trip, and I washed the small things myself as needed. On one occasion DH sent his slacks out to be dry cleaned. It was nice to find them all clean and waiting for him in our room. We had more than enough to wear for 18 nights, and when we got home we only had one load to launder. That is the best we have ever done in all of our years of travel. Apparently there is nothing like a little train travel to help a person learn to lighten the load.
chelseyd is offline  
Jun 18th, 2015, 06:19 PM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 94
I'm enjoying your report, especially since DH and I are planning a train trip through northern Italy in November. I will be forced to pack lightly to be able to maneuver, so I'm glad to read about your experience.

I'll be interested in the rest of your journey.
PA_Kathy is offline  
Jun 18th, 2015, 07:01 PM
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Congratulations on your packing breakthrough. It is liberating , isn't it?
jane1144 is offline  
Jun 18th, 2015, 11:33 PM
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Looking forward to your ongoing report. We hope to visit north Italy next year (and I am determined to pack lighter, 1 small backpack with roller wheels each.... I expect it will take some careful planning).
Adelaidean is online now  
Jun 19th, 2015, 12:59 AM
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on for the ride, looks like you plan well
bilboburgler is offline  
Jun 19th, 2015, 04:05 PM
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LAX to Rome

We left LAX on a Swiss Air direct flight to Zurich with a connection to Rome. Our flight was smooth, and we were ok in our economy bulk head seats. Rome Shuttle met us at the airport. They were great and the Mercedes was a welcome change after having been confined to an economy seat on our flight. We were very happy to see our name on a sign, and their service was excellent. We arrived in Rome on Good Friday evening.
On The Ground in Rome

We chose the Due Torri because it offered us a larger space. We had a regular bedroom and also a second small room with another bed in it. I think it was called a family room. We hardly used the extra room, but it served a purpose when one of us was trying to recover from with jet lag. With mixed feelings, we had cancelled our original reservations at the Albrego del Sonato. We wanted a larger space, but not a larger price. We walked by the Sonato on this trip and were very glad that we had opted for a larger, quiet space. Words can’t explain how crowded the square in front of the Sonato was. The Due Torri is a basic hotel, but it is on a quiet street.

We had reservations to attend both the Saturday Night Easter Vigil inside St. Peter's Basilica, and the outdoor Papal Mass on Easter Sunday. Bright and early Saturday morning we walked over to Vatican Square to pick up our tickets. The line was long and the weather was cold. I was glad that I had brought a lightweight down jacket, an umbrella, and gloves. So much for high fashion and stylish Roman ladies wearing beautiful wool coats and fine leather boots
At about 6pm we went back to the Square to line up for the 8:30 Vigil. Vatican Square was very crowded. The worst of it was that, in a line, a small foreign teenager pressed her whole body against my back with such force that I had to dig my toes into the pavement so as not to fall down. On Saturday the big electrical direction signs in the Square were not turned on. We did see them in operation later in the week, but had they been working on Saturday they could have saved a lot of grief. People with tickets were in the same line with people who had no idea that the Basilica was closed for the Vigil. When I showed them my tickets they didn’t believe me, and they just kept standing in line and pushing. The Vigil service itself was fantastic. It was very special to be in the Basilica at night. The pageantry was unforgettable. We saw Pope Francis and all the cardinals. We thought we even heard thunder outside. It was late when we got out of the Vatican and the streets were wet. Our first 24 hours in Rome had been full of amazing sights, and we were tired. It was raining and windy on Easter Sunday morning so we skipped the Papal Mass and slept in. We went out later in the day and were surprised at how many places were open. There was no problem getting food.

As a bit of background, before his retirement DH often had to ride a commuter bus to work. He has developed some pretty effective strategies for not getting physically mashed to a pulp, but he didn't notice what was happening to me on Saturday in that line. Later, I got a little defensive lesson! The result of his tutoring was that I didn't get pushed around again, and I must say that watching how DH dealt with blatant line-crashers was kind of interesting.
Getting around in The Big City

We stayed in Rome for 7 nights, seeing lots of sights that others have so well described on this forum. We mostly walked, but used the metro on occasion. If we wanted to see several divergent sights in one day, we supplemented with taxis. For example, we went to the Scuderie del Quirinale to see the colorful Matisse exhibit, grabbed an incoming taxi to take us out to the Quo Vadis Church on the Appian Way, decided on the spur of the moment to take the guided tour of the catacombs of St. Callisto, spent a good hour walking around the large grassy park that covers the catacombs, and hailed a taxi to get us back in time to freshen up for our dinner reservations at La Compagna. Yes, I had checked the bus and metro routes, and we could have used them, but we would not have seen all that we saw in such a short time without the help of a driver. As they drove along the way the drivers pointed out lots of memorable sites that we would not have even noticed or recognized.

The taxi charges were fair, and not one of the drivers tried to take advantage of us. I always had our destination in writing, including the exact street address for the cabs’ GPS. When a driver was especially nice, DH surprised him or her with an unexpected big tip. You should have seen their eyes light up, especially in northern Italy. They must have thought that we were American idiots, but there was no mistaking the fact that they were not laughing at us but were pleased with the tip. Maybe they were just happy that we appreciated their beautiful city and that we were grateful for their service.

Setbacks And Solutions

In Rome, we had an unexpected setback that almost stopped our trip. DH had a heck of a time walking on cobblestones. He had carefully chosen his shoes, so we didn’t think that was the problem, but he really struggled. He had no blisters, he was just plain didn’t like walking on cobblestones. Even after 40 years of marriage, he surprised me with his coping strategies. He wanted to soak his feet, but we didn't have a bathtub at the due Torri. He noticed that there was hot water in the bidet and there was also a stopper in there, just like in a small sink. He sat on the adjacent toilet (with the seat down) and stuck both feet and into the bidet. Fortunately he did not have any open sores. I had a hard time putting the thought of toe fungus, and infection out of my mind, but the man was desperate. The resulting picture is a keepsake. Despite my telling this in a light-hearted way, I did feel awful for his discomfort and my respect for him, and the fact that he kept on going, just zoomed right off the charts. On the day we went to Pompeii we bought him some new shoes in the train station in Naples, and he did a little better with them, but the problem wasn’t solved yet.

This is the end of our Roman adventure, but I deliberately left out describing our day trip to Pompeii. It isn’t difficult to get to Pompeii and back on the train, just a bit of a long day but that wasn’t a problem for us. Leaving our return open, we had reserved outgoing tickets on the Frecciarosa train. This was our first train and it was a joy. Let’s just say that we didn’t like the Circumversuviana train. I have not read of others people having problems on this train, so probably the issue was that we traveled on Easter Monday. Crowds of rowdy, scruffy teenagers or young adults got on at Naples. They certainly were not part of any organized tour. There would have been an easy fix for this; we could have simply done what other people did and hired a driver to meet us at the Naples station. I’m pretty sure that it isn’t even very expensive to do that.

Next up, Heading North, Ravenna and More Trains. Great Adventures!
chelseyd is offline  
Jun 19th, 2015, 04:14 PM
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A Word About Credit Cards And Buying Train Tickets
After talking about trains, I guess this is a good place to mention that we carried a USAA chip and pin credit card. We used it a lot. The automated train ticket machines ALL asked for that pin number, not an ATM number. Without a pin we would have had to stand in line to personally purchase each of our regional tickets. Not a good plan. Once you figure out how the regional train schedules work, you won't want to stand in line to buy tickets. You just select "English," enter your point to point information, pay, wait for the ticket to drop into the window, find your destination and track # on the big overhead screen, validate your ticket, and get on the train.
After a week in Rome we rode the fast train to Bologna. We then caught a regional train to Ravenna and stayed there for 2 nights. We were surprised that we both felt relief at having left the noise and the mass of humanity behind us in Rome. The air is so clean in Ravenna and we think that the town has a certain elegance to it. The mosaics were stunning. I really loved the vibrant colors. Nothing prepared me for what I would feel while in those churches. Beware, once they punch your card you can’t go back unless you buy another card or ticket. Ravenna was just fantastic and we are both so happy that we saw it.


We trained from Ravenna to Ferrara. There was a big festival going on in the plaza. Having only 1 night we didn't begin to do the town justice, but we did see the castle with the moat, and we walked many of the old streets. The most exciting thing that happened to us in Ferrara was that on a twisty little street found a Clark's shoe store and quickly solved his foot problems with the right pair leather loafers. The store had exactly what he needed. He jokingly said that when he got home he was going to have those shoes bronzed. He had never worn Clark's before, but on this trip, at this particular time, new shoes became a game-changer for him. I was so glad. It felt good that we were both pro-active in making this trip work for us. First, I sent my heavy suitcase home, and second, DH bought better shoes. We were so lightened-up that we felt as if we could fly.


From Ferrara we took the train to Venice. This was our third time in Venice. We splurged on a room right on the Grand Canal. It had a balcony that was about 10X20 feet in size. The weather was good, and we took full advantage of it. On the balcony I used Face Time with my daughter and she was amazed at watch the boats on the Grand Canal. She even got to see a group of gondolas with an accordion player and a singer, all while she was sitting at home in California. The Grand Canal was especially beautiful at night with lights being mirrored on the surface of the shimmering water.

Vappereto passes have increased in price so we waited until dusk and only bought a 24 hour pass for each of us. We took the #2 down the Grand Canal at dusk, getting off at Saint Mark’s Square. Since we had been there before we just wandered. I loved seeing Florian’s and listening to the music in the square. The lights were on, but the sky was still light, and we just about had the square to ourselves. The ride back to the hotel was beautiful too. FYI, while riding outside in the bow of the vapperato, an employee asked me to show my pass. That had never happened to either of us before, so maybe they are tightening up on cheaters.
The next day we went to Burano and Murano. Burano is one of my favorite places, and no visit would be complete without buying a new scarf. Our former tour guide taught me that trick, so I guess guided tours do have their good points. I never forgot her advice. Murano was fun too. Very touristy, but I found some little gifts there to bring back for friends.


Our best day trip was to Vicenza. I am a Palladio fan, so Vicenza was a thrill. We walked from the train station to the old part of town. It was kind of a long walk. The Teatro Olimpcio is not to be missed. Its history is amazing. You might want to Google the Teatro if you are not familiar with it. We saw the outside of La Rotonda too, thanks to an obliging taxi driver who stopped to let us take pictures. Mostly we just walked the town. I found Vicenza quite a bit more interesting than Ferrara. If spectacular architecture is one of your interests, walking Via Andrea Palladio will be a treat. I couldn’t carry any books home, but since arriving back home I have purchased two more books on Palladio to add to the collection.

From Venice we were headed to Varenna via Milan, spending 2 unplanned hours in the Milan train station. First, we had a hard time finding a WC, and then we had a gypsy encounter. We needed to buy tickets to Varenna and the automatic machines were cordoned off. A young woman was especially courteous to us and ushered us right up to a machine. She input our information very quickly. I assumed that Trainitala had suddenly grown a heart, and actually wanted to help their customers, but then the woman held out her hand and asked for money. She got it. She was very sweet and it was my fault that we fell for her ploy. As a further rookie mistake, it turned out that we could have bought regional train tickets from the machines right by the track that we came in on. Had we noticed those machines we would have saved ourselves 2 hours of wandering, but we then would not have had a chance to see the very interesting Mussolini era interior of the station. Because the station at Varenna isn’t manned and doesn’t have a ticket machine, we bought our tickets both to and from Varenna at Milan.

Next installment, Varenna, And The Trip Keeps Getting Better
chelseyd is offline  
Jun 19th, 2015, 11:37 PM
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You have a delightful story-telling style, Chel - I am enjoying your trip report! Di
di2315 is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 04:27 AM
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Clarks shoes. Before we went to Paris and London for two weeks, DH decided he needed new Clarks shoes to replace old walking sandals. DH wears 14EEE...not easy to get. Ordered from Clarks online. Shoes arrived, did not fit, returned, ordered15EE, arrived, did not fit, returned, ordered 15EEE, arrived one hour before we left for airport, installed orthotics. Shoes extremely comfortable...Great for walking. Will always have Clarks. DH finds them better than New Balance sneakers for travel.
Elainee is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 07:43 AM
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I'm also enjoying this trip report.

I think that your strategy for finding restaurants is the very best. Instead of making lists of recommended restaurants, it's best to learn about the regional cuisine, and look for restaurants serving the local specialties. I also have a look around, to see if what's being served looks appetizing, and whether the diners look contented or grumpy.

I'm glad you got your luggage and shoes under control. That sounds liberating!

A bidet is just a miniature bathtub, and gets cleaned just like a bathtub. You can wash anything in it that you'd wash in a bathtub, including your baby. I also do hand wash sometimes in the bidet.

My little granddaughter, when she visited us as a toddler, used to get her nightly bath in the bidet, and she called it the "end of the day".
bvlenci is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 07:53 AM
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I chose restaurants on
1) no fat dog asleep outside
2) no hustler dragging you in
3) loads of noisy locals inside
bilboburgler is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 07:54 AM
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I must apologize for the inconsistency of my spacing. Still trying to get the hang of how to write this on an iPad mini. Maybe I will fifure out hiow to post pictures before the end of the report. Right now just the spelling alone is a cringeworthy experience.

Oh Kathy and Adelaid I hope that you have great trips. We enjoyed northern Italy and would have liked to have seen more of it. Now I understand why people stay so long there.

Jane, you are right, it feels good when your packing strategies work for you. Must be the result of luck and making the right choices.

bilbo, I have read and enjoyed so many of your posts. It is a pleasure to have you aboard.

Elaine you cracked me up with your story about your husband's ordering Clarks shoes. You persevered, and the timing of the final delivery was amazing. I wore Clarks, too. Had brought my old Clarks, new Sketchers, and some new light weight Coach flats for "dress." Actually wore the Clarks every day.
chelseyd is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 11:53 AM
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you are too kind
bilboburgler is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 05:10 PM
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I liked reading about your gypsy encounter. She helped you, acted pleasantly, got tip...Sounds right to me. We have had lots of "helping" people when we needed them. I think they should get paid even if they could have told us how to do it ourselves. Just part of travel and better than the windowshield wipers in NYC.

Also agree that selecting restaurants in advance often not as good as looking around at who are the patrons. Last week in Paris we took taxi to restaurant where we had made reservations before we left for Paris. As we walked in I remembered we had eaten there our last trip and had not liked it. Did not like it better this time. It is highly recommended in many usually reliable sources. Oh well...

Did not mention that he Clarks shoe saga had started one week before we got on the plane.

Love your report.
Elainee is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 05:21 PM
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Agree the ipad is a pain to type on... don't give up, enjoying your report.
Adelaidean is online now  
Jun 21st, 2015, 01:36 PM
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Bevelenci, I have been reading your posts for a long time, and have appreciated your sound advice and encouragement is always appreciated, But this time you really hit the jackpot! What I don't know about bidets is a lot. A mineature bathtub....I had no idea. What fun your little granddaughter must have had with you.

Bilbo, I'm gonna keep an eye out for fat dogs in front of restaurants. Next time I see one I will remember your sage warning. Good item to add to the restaurant screening list.
chelseyd is offline  
Jun 21st, 2015, 09:11 PM
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We got off the train at Varenna and headed down hill to the Hotel Olevado. It was obvious right away that we were going to love this town. Our hotel was right in front of the ferry dock, and the 2 terrace doors of our room looked out over the water. The April weather was a bit threatening and tops of the mountains were hidden in clouds.

Our room was painted a warm sunny shade of yellow and there were 2 armchairs for relaxing. After awhile we went out for a walk along the water. There were outdoor restaurants and little shops, in some gorgeous settings. We toured the beautiful Villa Monestero and walked up to the little town square. On walking back, we were thrilled to see the sun come out! Snow-capped Alps were now visible in the far distance. It was too early for many flowers, but the wisteria and cherry trees were blooming. The whole place came alive with the sunshine. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. Oh, Lake Como, you are beautiful.

We had told Laura, the hotel proprietor, that we would like to eat dinner at the hotel. Dinner was fairly priced, the dining room was lovely, the service was good, and we enjoyed the food. We ate an early dinner in that dining room all three nights of our stay, usually having the room nearly to ourselves, as if we lived in a beautiful home and this were our own dining room. One afternoon when we came back, tired from sightseeing, Laura greeted us with a sigh and quietly said "Well, you are home now." There were lots of other places we could have eaten, but we felt at home in that old fashioned dining room and had no need to stray.

The next day was very pretty and we took a ferry to Bellagio. Expecting wide marble steps as in Las Vegas, we were surprised and enchanted to see the old town. Yes, it is touristy, but we had a lovely visit. I bought some glass jewelry and some little gifts. The store owner had been the proprietor there for 60 years and she was a hoot.

Since I am not able to do much climbing, we opted for a ride on the little Trombetta Express. It is a tourist bus that looks like a miniature train, and is all colored in candy stripes. Highly, highly tacky, but fun. We had an excellent time in Bellagio and were happy to have been able to be there on a beautiful April day.

We had planned to leave Varenna the following day and head for Switzerland. As we travelled north I had been keeping an eye on the satelight weather reports for Switzerland. In reality, I had been looking at satellite pictures and webcams for months and months in anticipation of this trip, and had developed a pretty good understanding of how the storms moved over the area where we wanted to be. The next day defiantly wasn't going to be good. In fact it was going to be awful. There was a big storm coming in with wind and rain. Not the day we wanted for the Alps.

We asked Laura if we could stay stay a third night at the Olevado. Now we had an extra day in Varenna. We considered a ferry ride to the town of Como, but the weather dawned and dark and foul. There were whitecaps on the water.

We decided that this was a great time for a day of rest. There had been precious little rest for us on this trip, usually on the go all day long, and we were getting tired. We stayed in and read. DH napped, and I went down for a bowl of Laura's hearty soup. In the evening we went out for a last walk along Lake Como's edge.

Our time in Switzerland had now shrunk to two nights. We had to make the most of the very inadequate time that was left. We always like to end our trips with something different, and this time it was to be a bit of Switzerland. Now that we knew where we stood, I got on Booking.com to make hotel reservations for a measly 2 nights in Switzerland.

The next morning we walked up the hill to catch the 9:24 train to Tirano. Somehow we were very early, and then we experienced the dreaded "cancellato." We had purchased our tickets to ride from Varenna to Tirano 3 days earlier in Milan, and were excited to be going to Switzerland on such a fine day. We had not made reservations on the Bernina Express, but still, it was hard to wait at the station when we knew that the weather ahead of us was beautiful.

The wait gave us time to meet a couple from the US west coast. His luggage had been left on the ground at their departure airport. They were in good spirits despite having to share their underwear! We also had time to chat again with our new friends Sophie and Jacob whom we kept bumping into in our walks around Varenna. Our friends were all headed in the direction of Milan and they had no delays, so ultimately they had to leave us behind at the station, still waiting for a train.

The Varenna station is small, old, and unmanned. Even the bathroom was locked up tight. Finally someone unlocked the door to the WC and I was surprised to see only a hole in an unclean floor. Had there not been raised footprints to show which direction to place your feet, I would have done it all backwards. I have only seen that whole in the floor arrangement once before, way back in 1966, in Rome, on a trip that was forgotten until today.

Long story short, we left Varenna on the 11:24 (I think). We were mighty glad that it wasn't canceled, too. Feeling quite grateful, we were off on a grand adventure, and looking forward to a short but sweet time in Switzerland.

Next, A Great Time on The The Bernina Express.
chelseyd is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2015, 06:13 AM
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Switzerland at Last

We arrived in Tirano at about 12:50 and quickly walked over to the Swiss station. An incoming Bernina Express train happened to be stopped at the track, right in front of the ticket office. There was not an Express train scheduled to leave to leave in the direction of the pass, so the presence of this train didn't make sense to us.

Looking from the outside, we were easily able to see the interior of the Bernina cars. The seats were wide and plush, with 2 across. If there were doilies on the chair backs, I couldn't see them. Every seat was taken, and the people were just sitting in there very still. The Express train car was quite fancy, bit it looked a bit sedate and formal for our taste.

We rushed to the counter and bought tickets to Filisur on the 1:00 regular train that runs along the same track the Bernina Express uses. Tickets in hand, and not knowing whether on not we were making a good decision, we ran a short distance to a waiting conductor and and jumped on the train.

Except for us, the car was empty. Off we went on a most beautiful day. We opened the upper windows on both sides of the car and ran from window to window like a couple of kids, taking pictures. This train did not have overhead panoramic windows, but we were easily able to see all the mountain tops without them. We had great weather and a spectacular ride.


Filisur is a quiet little town with a population of about 400. I fell in love with the idea of an overnight there after searching for pictures of the town on Google Images. The Bernina Express and the Glacier Express both go right by Filisur, and you can watch the quietvtrains from anywhere in town just by looking up toward the hill.

We stayed up at the station for a while looking out at the view and talking with an older couple who were locals. We all ended up laughing because we Americans had mistaken a ticket machine for an ATM and were expecting to get Swiss franks out of it.

We were headed to the modern Hotel Schontal, a steep but short walk down the hill. The friendly owner greeted us warmly and asked us about the water shortage in California. Our room had balcony with chairs so we immediately headed outside. There we sat, in our short sleeves, soaking up the sun and looking down the beautiful valley and out at the Alps.

Directly below us was a small working farm and DH was mesmerized watching the hard working crew down there. I don't think that he will ever forget that scene. It was not a beautiful storybook farm at all, just a real, authentic hard working slice of Swiss life.

After we shared reminesses about our day, and relaxed a bit, we headed downstairs for dinner. This was the almost our last night, and both of us were getting weary. Even the word "danka" was hard to pull out of the old memory bank. We were both still saying "grazie."

The dining room menu had an awkward English translation and I just took a simple choice and ordered a "cutlet." Sitting in that setting it didn't even matter what I ate. It wasn't until the plate was in front of me, and I caught a wonderful scent, that I realized I was looking at my old German favorite from 50 years ago, schnitzel mit pomme frites!

It was embarrassing not to remember ANY German words, but the aroma and the taste of an old favorite food wordlessly transported me to another time. DH said that his french fries were the best fries he had ever eaten. We attempted to ask what kind of oil was used to cook the fries, but language failed us, so we will never know...
chelseyd is offline  
Jun 26th, 2015, 09:25 AM
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Join Date: May 2014
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Filisur to Zurich

Being from water starved California we enjoyed the luxury of having a morning shower without thinking about water conservation.. A 5 minute shower would not happen in our house at home. In Filisur we had a good meal, saw pretty scenery, slept well, and took decent showers. We were happy with our overnight.

In the morning we had a nice breakfast and bought tickets for the train to Zurich. As the Alpine elevation decreased, we began to see green grasses and some charming houses and small towns. It was a nice ride. All too soon we were at the Zurich Hauptbohnof.

Our destination was the Hotel St. Josef, a relatively inexpensive hotel for Zurich ($220) that is often mentioned on Fodor's. At this point we were making last minute reservations, and the most popular hotels were full. I had not researched Zurich other than to have some hotel names ready. We needed to get our bearings so that we didn't leave the station walking in the wrong direction. The Information desk was a great help to us.

We walked across the river, but we were still not sure that we were in the area. A well dressed young man stopped and volunteered to help us. He directed us to walk past the tram stop and keep going. Ultimately we walked up a long cement ramp and were relived to see our hotel, right there at the top of the ramp.

The St. Josef was a good choice for us. Unexpectedly for the price point, the efficient staff provided patient and excellent help with directions. We were easily able to walk from the hotel to the old section of Zurich.

We dropped our bags and immediately set off for the old town. Loved it! Walked along the river. Just wandered. Our favorite was seeing the Chagall stained glass windows in the Fraumünster church. There was dusty construction outside the church, and the route to the entrance did not look at all promising. It must have been a temporary entrance, but we didn't realize that at the time. DH was skeptical about the whole thing. We were kind of on church overload anyway.

The church was nearly empty when we entered. I had forgotten to tell DH about the Chagall windows inside. When he saw them he was bowled over. As we were leaving, we stopped at a small counter to buy some pictures. All of a sudden the little entrance/exit door was jammed by an American tour group. They flooded into the church and we were stuck in there until they were all inside. Had we been just 15 minutes later, we would not have been able to gaze at the windows in peace. We would most likely not have been able to endure the line to buy the small bookmarks that now give us such pleasure.

Walking the Bahnhofstrasse and looking at windows was fun. Seeing the efficient trams whisking along the leafy overhanging trees was a memory. It must have been emerald season on the Strasse, one window after another displayed fancy emerald jewelry.

Zurich was a sweet ending to our trip, and, had I not been reading Fodor's trip reports, we would have stayed at an airport hotel and entirely missed the charm of the old city.

The following morning I woke up feeling full of energy. The desk staff at the St. Josef gave us excellent advice about how to take the nearby tram to the airport. We didn't have to go back to the train station. The ride was easy and took about 35 minutes. We passed a good deal of urban Zurich. Some of it looked interesting, but most of it looks like your usual large residential city.

The old town is definitely the place for visitors to be. We enjoyed it. Fortunately we did not know what our flight home held in store for us.
chelseyd is offline  
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